Thomas Carlyle
John Nichol

Part 3 out of 5

it was to find that they were better apart; for his temper was never
softened by success. "Living beside him," she writes in 1858, is "the
life of a weathercock in high wind." During a brief residence together
in a hired house near Aberdour in Fifeshire, she compares herself to a
keeper in a madhouse; and writes later from Sunny bank to her husband,
"If you could fancy me in some part of the house out of sight, my absence
would make little difference to you, considering how little I do see of
you, and how preoccupied you are when I do see you." Carlyle answers in
his touching strain, "We have had a sore life pilgrimage together, much
bad road. Oh, forgive me!" and sends her beautiful descriptions; but her
disposition, not wholly forgiving, received them somewhat sceptically.
"Byron," said Lady Byron, "can write anything, but he does not feel it";
and Mrs. Carlyle on one occasion told her "harsh spouse" that his fine
passages were very well written for the sake of future biographers:
a charge he almost indignantly repudiates. He was then, August 1860,
staying at Thurso Castle, the guest of Sir George Sinclair; a visit that
terminated in an unfortunate careless mistake about a sudden change of
plans, resulting in his wife, then with the Stanleys at Alderley,
being driven back to Chelsea and deprived of her promised pleasure and
requisite rest with her friends in the north.

The frequency of such incidents,--each apart capable of being palliated
by the same fallacy of division that has attempted in vain to justify the
domestic career of Henry VIII.,--points to the conclusion of Miss Gully
that Carlyle, though often nervous on the subject, acted to his wife as
if he were "totally inconsiderate of her health," so much so that she
received medical advice not to be much at home when he was in the stress
of writing. In January 1858 he writes to his brother John an anxious
letter in reference to a pain about a hand-breadth below the heart, of
which she had begun to complain, the premonitory symptom of the disease
which ultimately proved fatal; but he was not sufficiently impressed
to give due heed to the warning; nor was it possible, with his
long-engrained habits, to remove the Marah spring that lay under all the
wearisome bickerings, repentances, and renewals of offence. The "very
little herring" who declined to be made a part of Lady Ashburton's
luggage now suffered more than ever from her inanimate rival. The
highly-endowed wife of one of the most eminent philanthropists of
America, whose life was devoted to the awakening of defective intellects,
thirty-five years ago murmured, "If I were only an idiot!" Similarly Mrs.
Carlyle might have remonstrated, "Why was I not born a book!" Her letters
and journal teem to tiresomeness with the refrain, "I feel myself
extremely neglected for unborn generations." Her once considerable
ambitions had been submerged, and her own vivid personality overshadowed
by a man she was afraid to meet at breakfast, and glad to avoid at
dinner. A woman of immense talent and a spark of genius linked to a man
of vast genius and imperious will, she had no choice but to adopt his
judgments, intensify his dislikes, and give a sharper edge to his sneers.

Mr. Froude, who for many years lived too near the sun to see the sun,
and inconsistently defends many of the inconsistencies he has himself
inherited from his master, yet admits that Carlyle treated the Broad
Church party in the English Church with some injustice. His recorded
estimates of the leading theologians of the age, and personal relation to
them, are hopelessly bewildering. His lifelong friendship for Erskine of
Linlathen is intelligible, though he did not extend the same charity to
what he regarded as the muddle-headedness of Maurice (Erskine's spiritual
son), and keenly ridiculed the reconciliation pamphlet entitled
"Subscription no Bondage." The Essayists and Reviewers, "Septem contra
Christum," "should," he said, "be shot for deserting their posts"; even
Dean Stanley, their _amicus curioe,_ whom he liked, came in for a share
of his sarcasm; "there he goes," he said to Froude, "boring holes in the
bottom of the Church of England." Of Colenso, who was doing as much as
any one for the "Exodus from Houndsditch," he spoke with open contempt,
saying, "he mistakes for fame an extended pillory that he is standing
on"; and was echoed by his wife, "Colenso isn't worth talking about for
five minutes, except for the absurdity of a man making arithmetical
onslaughts on the Pentateuch with a bishop's little black silk apron on."
This is not the place to discuss the controversy involved; but we
are bound to note the fact that Carlyle was, by an inverted Scotch
intolerance, led to revile men rowing in the same boat as himself, but
with a different stroke. To another broad Churchman, Charles Kingsley,
partly from sympathy with this writer's imaginative power, he was more
considerate; and one of the still deeply religious freethinkers of the
time was among his closest friends. The death of Arthur Clough in 1861
left another blank in Carlyle's life: we have had in this century to
lament the comparatively early loss of few men of finer genius. Clough
had not, perhaps, the practical force of Sterling, but his work is of a
higher order than any of the fragments of the earlier favourite. Among
High Churchmen Carlyle commended Dr. Pusey as "solid and judicious," and
fraternised with the Bishop of Oxford; but he called Keble "an ape,"
and said of Cardinal Newman that he had "no more brains than an
ordinary-sized rabbit."

These years are otherwise marked by his most glaring political blunder.
The Civil War, then raging in America, brought, with its close, the
abolition of Slavery throughout the States, a consummation for which he
cared little, for he had never professed to regard the negroes as fit for
freedom; but this result, though inevitable, was incidental. As is known
to every one who has the remotest knowledge of Transatlantic history,
the war was in great measure a struggle for the preservation of National
Unity: but it was essentially more; it was the vindication of Law and
Order against the lawless and disorderly violence of those who, when
defeated at the polling-booth, flew to the bowie knife; an assertion of
Right as Might for which Carlyle cared everything: yet all he had to
say of it was his "Ilias Americana in nuce," published in _Macmillan's
Magazine_, August 1863.

_Peter of the North_ (to Paul of the South): "Paul, you
unaccountable scoundrel, I find you hire your servants for
life, not by the month or year as I do. You are going
straight to Hell, you----"

_Paul_: "Good words, Peter. The risk is my own. I am
willing to take the risk. Hire you your servants by the
month or the day, and get straight to Heaven; leave me to my
own method."

_Peter_: "No, I won't. I will beat your brains out
first!" [And is trying dreadfully ever since, but cannot yet
manage it.]

This, except the _Prinzenraub_, a dramatic presentation of a dramatic
incident in old German history, was his only side publication during the
writing of _Friedrich_.

After the war ended and Emerson's letters of remonstrance had proved
prophetic, Carlyle is said to have confessed to Mr. Moncure Conway as
well as to Mr. Froude that he "had not seen to the bottom of the matter."
But his republication of this nadir of his nonsense was an offence,
emphasising the fact that, however inspiring, he is not always a safe
guide, even to those content to abide by his own criterion of success.

There remains of this period the record of a triumph and of a tragedy.
After seven years more of rarely intermitted toil, broken only by a few
visits, trips to the sea-shore, etc., and the distress of the terrible
accident to his wife,--her fall on a curbstone and dislocation of a
limb,--which has been often sufficiently detailed, he had finished his
last great work. The third volume of _Friedrich_ was published in May
1862, the fourth appeared in February 1864, the fifth and sixth in March
1865. Carlyle had at last slain his Minotaur, and stood before the
world as a victorious Theseus, everywhere courted and acclaimed, his
hard-earned rest only disturbed by a shower of honours. His position
as the foremost prose writer of his day was as firmly established in
Germany, where his book was at once translated and read by all readers of
history, as in England. Scotland, now fully awake to her reflected fame,
made haste to make amends. Even the leaders of the sects, bond and
"free," who had denounced him, were now eager to proclaim that he had
been intrinsically all along, though sometimes in disguise, a champion of
their faith. No men knew better how to patronise, or even seem to lead,
what they had failed to quell. The Universities made haste with their
burnt-offerings. In 1856 a body of Edinburgh students had prematurely
repeated the attempt of their forerunners in Glasgow to confer on him
their Lord Rectorship, and failed. In 1865 he was elected, in opposition
again to Mr. Disraeli, to succeed Mr. Gladstone, the genius of elections
being in a jesting mood. He was prevailed on to accept the honour, and,
later, consented to deliver in the spring of 1866 the customary Inaugural
Address. Mrs. Carlyle's anxiety on this occasion as to his success and
his health is a tribute to her constant and intense fidelity. He went
north to his Installation, under the kind care of encouraging friends,
imprimis of Professor Tyndall, one of his truest; they stopped on the road
at Fryston, with Lord Houghton, and there met Professor Huxley, who
accompanied them to Edinburgh. Carlyle, having resolved to speak and not
merely to read what he had to say, was oppressed with nervousness; and of
the event itself he writes: "My speech was delivered in a mood of defiant
despair, and under the pressure of nightmare. Some feeling that I was not
speaking lies alone sustained me. The applause, etc., I took for empty
noise, which it really was not altogether." The address, nominally on the
"Reading of Books," really a rapid autobiography of his own intellectual
career, with references to history, literature, religion, and the conduct
of life, was, as Tyndall telegraphed to Mrs. Carlyle,--save for some
difficulty the speaker had in making himself audible--"a perfect triumph."
His reception by one of the most enthusiastic audiences ever similarly
assembled marked the climax of a steadily-increasing fame. It may be
compared to the late welcome given to Wordsworth in the Oxford Theatre.
After four days spent with Erskine and his own brother James in Edinburgh,
he went for a week's quiet to Scotsbrig, and was kept there, lingering
longer than he had intended, by a sprained ankle, "blessed in the country
stillness, the purity of sky and earth, and the absence of all babble." On
April 20th he wrote his last letter to his wife, a letter which she never
read. On the evening of Saturday the 21st, when staying on the way south
at his sister's house at Dumfries, he received a telegram informing him
that the close companionship of forty years--companionship of struggle and
victory, of sad and sweet so strangely blent--was for ever at an end. Mrs.
Carlyle had been found dead in her carriage when driving round Hyde Park
on the afternoon of that day, her death (from heart-disease) being
accelerated by an accident to a favourite little dog. Carlyle felt as "one
who hath been stunned," hardly able to realise his loss. "They took me out
next day ... to wander in the green sunny Sabbath fields, and ever and
anon there rose from my sick heart the ejaculation, 'My poor little
woman,' but no full gust of tears came to my relief, nor has yet come." On
the following Monday he set off with his brother for London. "Never for a
thousand years shall I forget that arrival hero of ours, my first
unwelcomed by her. She lay in her coffin, lovely in death. Pale death Hid
things not mine or ours had possession of our poor darling." On Wednesday
they returned, and on Thursday the 26th she was buried in the nave of the
old Abbey Kirk at Haddington, in the grave of her father The now desolate
old man, who had walked with her over many a stony road, paid the first of
his many regretful tributes in the epitaph inscribed over her tomb: in
which follows, after the name and date of birth:--


[Footnote: For the most interesting, loyally sympathetic, and
characteristic account of Carlyle's journey north on this occasion, and of
the incidents which followed, we may refer to _New fragments_, by John
Tyndall, just published.]




After this shock of bereavement Carlyle's days went by "on broken wing,"
never brightening, slowly saddening to the close; but lit up at intervals
by flashes of the indomitable energy that, starting from no vantage,
had conquered a world of thought, and established in it, if not a new
dynasty, at least an intellectual throne. Expressions of sympathy came
to him from all directions, from the Queen herself downwards, and he
received them with the grateful acknowledgment that he had, after all,
been loved by his contemporaries. When the question arose as to his
future life, it seemed a natural arrangement that he and his brother
John, then a childless widower who had retired from his profession with a
competence, should take up house together. The experiment was made, but,
to the discredit of neither, it proved a failure. They were in some
respects too much alike. John would not surrender himself wholly to the
will or whims even of one whom he revered, and the attempt was by mutual
consent abandoned; but their affectionate correspondence lasted through
the period of their joint lives. Carlyle, being left to himself in his
"gaunt and lonesome home," after a short visit to Miss Bromley, an
intimate friend of his wife, at her residence in Kent, accepted the
invitation of the second Lady Ashburton to spend the winter in her house
at Mentone. There he arrived on Christmas Eve 1866, under the kind convoy
of Professor Tyndall, and remained breathing the balmy air and gazing on
the violet sea till March of the following year. During the interval he
occupied himself in writing his _Reminiscences,_ drawing pen-and-ink
pictures of the country, steeped in beauty fit to soothe any sorrow save
such as his, and taking notes of some of the passers-by. Of the greatest
celebrity then encountered, Mr. Gladstone, he writes in his journal, in a
tone intensified as time went on: "Talk copious, ingenious,... a man
of ardent faculty, but all gone irrecoverably into House of Commons
shape.... Man once of some wisdom or possibility of it, but now possessed
by the Prince, or many Princes, of the Air." Back in Chelsea, he was
harassed by heaps of letters, most of which, we are told, he answered,
and spent a large portion of his time and means in charities.

Amid Carlyle's irreconcilable inconsistencies of theory, and sometimes
of conduct, he was through life consistent in practical benevolence. The
interest in the welfare of the working classes that in part inspired his
_Sartor, Chartism,_ and _Past and Present_ never failed him. He was
among the foremost in all national movements to relieve and solace their
estate. He was, further, with an amiable disregard of his own maxims,
over lenient towards the waifs and strays of humanity, in some instances
careless to inquire too closely into the causes of their misfortune or
the degree of their demerits. In his latter days this disposition grew
upon him: the gray of his own evening skies made him fuller of compassion
to all who lived in the shade. Sad himself, he mourned with those who
mourned; afflicted, he held out hands to all in affliction. Consequently
"the poor were always with him," writing, entreating, and personally
soliciting all sorts of alms, from advice and help to ready money. His
biographer informs us that he rarely gave an absolute refusal to any
of these various classes of beggars. He answered a letter which is a
manifest parody of his own surface misanthropy; he gave a guinea to a
ticket-of-leave-convict, pretending to be a decayed tradesman; and a
shilling to a blind man, whose dog took him over the crossing to a gin
shop. Froude remonstrated; "Poor fellow," was the answer, "I daresay he
is cold and thirsty." The memory of Wordsworth is less warmly cherished
among the dales of Westmoreland than that of Carlyle in the lanes of
Chelsea, where "his one expensive luxury was charity."

His attitude on political questions, in which for ten years he still took
a more or less prominent part, represents him on his sterner side. The
first of these was the controversy about Governor Eyre, who, having
suppressed the Jamaica rebellion by the violent and, as alleged, cruel
use of martial law, and hung a quadroon preacher called Gordon--the man
whether honest or not being an undoubted incendiary--without any law at
all, was by the force of popular indignation dismissed in disgrace, and
then arraigned for mis-government and illegality. In the movement, which
resulted in the governor's recall and impeachment, there was doubtless
the usual amount of exaggeration--represented by the violent language
of one of Carlyle's minor biographers: "There were more innocent people
slain than at Jeffreys' Bloody Assize"; "The massacre of Glencoe was
nothing to it"; "Members of Christian Churches were flogged," etc.
etc.--but among its leaders there were so many men of mark and celebrity,
men like John S. Mill, T. Hughes, John Bright, Fawcett, Cairnes, Goldwin
Smith, Herbert Spencer, and Frederick Harrison, that it could not be set
aside as a mere unreasoning clamour. It was a hard test of Carlyle's
theory of strong government; and he stood to his colours. Years before,
on John Sterling suggesting that the negroes themselves should be
consulted as to making a permanent engagement with their masters, he had
said, "I never thought the rights of the negroes worth much discussing
in any form. Quashee will get himself made a slave again, and with
beneficent whip will be compelled to work." On this occasion he regarded
the black rebellion in the same light as the Sepoy revolt. He organised
and took the chair of a "Defence Committee," joined or backed by Ruskin,
Henry Kingsley, Tyndall, Sir R. Murchison, Sir T. Gladstone, and others.
"I never," says Mr. Froude, "knew Carlyle more anxious about anything."
He drew up a petition to Government and exerted himself heart and soul
for the "brave, gentle, chivalrous, and clear man," who when the ship was
on fire "had been called to account for having flung a bucket or two of
water into the hold beyond what was necessary." He had damaged some of
the cargo perhaps, but he had saved the ship, and deserved to be made
"dictator of Jamaica for the next twenty-five years," to govern after
the model of Dr. Francia in Paraguay. The committee failed to get
Eyre reinstalled or his pension restored; but the impeachment was

The next great event was the passing of the Reform Bill of 1867, by the
Tories, educated by Mr. Disraeli to this method of "dishing the Whigs,"
by outbidding them in the scramble for votes. This instigated the famous
tract called _Shooting Niagara_, written in the spirit of the _Latter-Day
Pamphlets_--Carlyle's final and unqualified denunciation of this
concession to Democracy and all its works. But the upper classes in
England seemed indifferent to the warning. "Niagara, or what you like,"
the author quotes as the saying of a certain shining countess, "we will
at least have a villa on the Mediterranean when Church and State have
gone." A _mot_ emphatically of the decadence.

Later he fulminated against the Clerkenwell explosions being a means of
bringing the Irish question within the range of practical politics.

I sit in speechless admiration of our English treatment of
those Fenians first and last. It is as if the rats of a house
had decided to expel and extirpate the human inhabitants,
which latter seemed to have neither rat-catchers, traps, nor
arsenic, and are trying to prevail by the method of love.

Governor Eyre, with Spenser's Essay on Ireland for text and Cromwell's
storm of Drogheda for example, or Otto von Bismarck, would have been, in
his view, in place at Dublin Castle.

In the next great event of the century, the close of the greatest
European struggle since Waterloo, the cause which pleased Cato pleased
also the gods. Carlyle, especially in his later days, had a deepening
confidence in the Teutonic, a growing distrust of the Gallic race. He
regarded the contest between them as one between Ormuzd and Ahriman, and
wrote of Sedan, as he had written of Rossbach, with exultation. When
a feeling spread in this country, naming itself sympathy for the
fallen,--really half that, the other half, as in the American war, being
jealousy of the victor,--and threatened to be dangerous, Carlyle wrote a
decisive letter to the _Times_, November 11th 1870, tracing the sources
of the war back to the robberies of Louis XIV., and ridiculing the
prevailing sentiment about the recaptured provinces of Lothringen and
Elsass. With a possible reference to Victor Hugo and his clients, he

They believe that they are the "Christ of Nations."... I
wish they would inquire whether there might not be a
Cartouche of nations. Cartouche had many gallant
qualities--had many fine ladies begging locks of his hair
while the indispensable gibbet was preparing. Better he
should obey the heavy-handed Teutsch police officer, who has
him by the windpipe in such frightful manner, give up part
of his stolen goods, altogether cease to be a Cartouche, and
try to become again a Chevalier Bayard. All Europe does
_not_ come to the rescue in gratitude for the heavenly
illumination it is getting from France: nor could all Europe
if it did prevent that awful Chancellor from having his own
way. Metz and the boundary fence, I reckon, will be
dreadfully hard to get out of that Chancellor's hands
again.... Considerable misconception as to Herr von Bismarck
is still prevalent in England. He, as I read him, is not a
person of Napoleonic ideas, but of ideas quite superior to
Napoleonic.... That noble, patient, deep, pious, and solid
Germany should be at length welded into a nation, and become
Queen of the Continent, instead of vapouring, vainglorious,
gesticulating, quarrelsome, restless, and over-sensitive
France, seems to me the hopefulest fact that has occurred in
my time.

Carlyle seldom wrote with more force, or with more justice. Only, to be
complete, his paper should have ended with a warning. He has done more
than any other writer to perpetuate in England the memories of the great
thinkers and actors--Fichte, Richter, Arndt, Körner, Stein, Goethe,--who
taught their countrymen how to endure defeat and retrieve adversity. Who
will celebrate their yet undefined successors, who will train Germany
gracefully to bear the burden of prosperity? Two years later Carlyle
wrote or rather dictated, for his hand was beginning to shake, his
historical sketch of the _Early Kings of Norway_, showing no diminution
of power either of thought or expression, his estimates of the three
Hakons and of the three Olafs being especially notable; and a paper
on _The Portraits of John Knox_, the prevailing dull gray of which is
relieved by a radiant vision of Mary Stuart.

He was incited to another public protest, when, in May 1877, towards the
close of the Russo-Turkish war, he had got, or imagined himself to have
got, reliable information that Lord Beaconsfield, then Prime Minister,
having sent our fleet to the Dardanelles, was planning to seize Gallipoli
and throw England into the struggle. Carlyle never seems to have
contemplated the possibility of a Sclavo-Gallic alliance against the
forces of civilised order in Europe, and he chose to think of the Czars
as the representatives of an enlightened autocracy. We are here mainly
interested in the letter he wrote to the _Times_, as "his last public act
in this world,"--the phrase of Mr. Froude, who does not give the letter,
and unaccountably says it "was brief, not more than three or four lines."
It is as follows:--

Sir--A rumour everywhere prevails that our miraculous
Premier, in spite of the Queen's Proclamation of Neutrality,
intends, under cover of care for "British interests," to
send the English fleet to the Baltic, or do some other feat
which shall compel Russia to declare war against England.
Latterly the rumour has shifted from the Baltic and become
still more sinister, on the eastern side of the scene, where
a feat is contemplated that will force, not Russia only,
but all Europe, to declare war against us. This latter I
have come to know as an indisputable fact; in our present
affairs and outlooks surely a grave one.

As to "British interests" there is none visible or
conceivable to me, except taking strict charge of our route
to India by Suez and Egypt, and for the rest, resolutely
steering altogether clear of any copartnery with the Turk in
regard to this or any other "British interest" whatever. It
should be felt by England as a real ignominy to be connected
with such a Turk at all. Nay, if we still had, as we ought
to have, a wish to save him from perdition and annihilation
in God's world, the one future for him that has any hope in
it is even now that of being conquered by the Russians, and
gradually schooled and drilled into peaceable attempt at
learning to be himself governed. The newspaper outcry
against Russia is no more respectable to me than the howling
of Bedlam, proceeding as it does from the deepest ignorance,
egoism, and paltry national jealousy.

These things I write, not on hearsay, but on accurate
knowledge, and to all friends of their country will
recommend immediate attention to them while there is yet
time, lest in a few weeks the maddest and most criminal
thing that a British government could do, should be done
and all Europe kindle into flames of war.--I am, etc.

5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea,
_May 4th._

Meanwhile honours without stint were being rendered to the great author
and venerable sage. In 1868 he had by request a personal interview with
the Queen, and has left, in a letter, a graphic account of the interview
at the Deanery of Westminster. Great artists as Millais, Watts, and
Boehm vied with one another, in painting or sculpture, to preserve his
lineaments; prominent reviews to record their impression of his work,
and disciples to show their gratitude. One of these, Professor Masson
of Edinburgh, in memory of Carlyle's own tribute to Goethe, started a
subscription for a medal, presented on his eightieth birthday; but he
valued more a communication of the same date from Prince Bismarck. Count
Bernstoff from Berlin wrote him (1871) a semi-official letter of thanks
for the services he had conferred on Germany, and in 1874 he was
prevailed on to accept the Prussian "Ordre pour le mérite." In the same
year Mr. Disraeli proposed, in courteous oblivion of bygone hostilities,
to confer on him a pension and the "Order of the Grand Cross of Bath," an
emolument and distinction which Carlyle, with equal courtesy, declined.
To the Countess of Derby, whom he believed to be the originator of the
scheme, he (December 30th) expressed his sense of the generosity of the
Premier's letter: "It reveals to me, after all the hard things I have
said of him, a now and unexpected stratum of genial dignity and manliness
of character." To his brother John he wrote: "I do, however, truly admire
the magnanimity of Dizzy in regard to me. He is the only man I almost
never spoke of without contempt ... and yet see here he comes with a
pan of hot coals for my guilty head." That he was by no means gagged by
personal feeling or seduced in matters of policy is evident from the
above-quoted letter to the _Times_; but he liked Disraeli better than
he did his great rival; the one may have bewildered his followers, the
other, according to his critic's view, deceived himself--the lie, in
Platonic phrase, had got into the soul, till, to borrow an epigram, "he
made his conscience not his guide but his accomplice." "Carlyle," says
Mr. Froude, "did not regard Mr. Gladstone merely as an orator who,
knowing nothing as it ought to be known, had flung his force into
specious sentiments, but as the representative of the numerous cants of
the age ... differing from others in that the cant seemed true to him.
He in fact believed him to be one of those fatal figures created by
England's evil genius to work irreparable mischief." It must be admitted
that Carlyle's censures are so broadcast as to lose half their sting.
In uncontroversial writing, it is enough to note that his methods of
reforming the world and Mr. Gladstone's were as far as the poles asunder;
and the admirers of the latter may console themselves with the reflection
that the censor was, at the same time, talking with equal disdain of the
scientific discoverers of the age--conspicuously of Mr. Darwin, whom he
describes as "evolving man's soul from frog spawn," adding, "I have
no patience with these gorilla damnifications of humanity." Other
criticisms, as those of George Eliot, whose _Adam Bede_ he pronounced
"simply dull," display a curious limitation or obtuseness of mind.

One of the pleasantest features of his declining years is the ardour of
his attachment to the few staunch friends who helped to cheer and console
them. He had a sincere regard for Fitzjames Stephen, "an honest man with
heavy strokes"; for Sir Garnet Wolseley, to whom he said in effect, "Your
duty one day will be to take away that bauble and close the doors of
the House of Discord"; for Tyndall always; for Lecky, despite their
differences; for Moncure Conway, athwart the question of "nigger"
philanthropies; for Kingsley and Tennyson and Browning, the last of whom
was a frequent visitor till near the end. Froude he had bound to his soul
by hoops of steel; and a more faithful disciple and apostle, in intention
always, in practice in the main (despite the most perplexing errors of
judgment), no professed prophet ever had. But Carlyle's highest praise
is reserved for Ruskin, whom he regarded as no mere art critic, but as a
moral power worthy to receive and carry onward his own "cross of fire."
The relationship between the two great writers is unchequered by any
shade of patronage on the one hand, of jealousy or adulation on the
other. The elder recognised in the younger an intellect as keen, a spirit
as fearless as his own, who in the Eyre controversy had "plunged his
rapier to the hilt in the entrails of the Blatant Beast," _i.e._ Popular
Opinion. He admired all Ruskin's books; the _Stones of Venice,_ the most
solid structure of the group, he named "Sermons in Stones"; he resented
an attack on _Sesame and Lilies_ as if the book had been his own; and
passages of the _Queen of the Air_ went into his heart "like arrows." The
_Order of the Rose_ has attempted a practical embodiment of the review
contemplated by Carlyle, as a counteractive to the money making practice
and expediency-worships of the day.

Meanwhile he had been putting his financial affairs in order. In 1867,
on return from Mentone, he had recorded his bequest of the revenues of
Graigenputtock for the endowment of three John Welsh bursaries in the
University of Edinburgh. In 1873 he made his will, leaving John Forster
and Froude his literary executors: a legacy of trust which, on the death
of the former, fell to the latter, to whose discretion, by various later
bequests, less and less limited, there was confided the choice--at
last almost made a duty--of editing and publishing the manuscripts and
journals of himself and his wife.

Early in his seventy-third year (December 1867) Carlyle quotes, "Youth is
a garland of roses," adding, "I did not find it such. 'Age is a crown of
thorns.' Neither is this altogether true for me. If sadness and sorrow
tend to loosen us from life, they make the place of rest more desirable."
The talk of Socrates in the _Republic_, and the fine phrases in Cicero's
_De Senectute_, hardly touch on the great grief, apart from physical
infirmities, of old age--its increasing solitariness. After sixty, a man
may make disciples and converts, but few new friends, while the old ones
die daily; the "familiar faces" vanish in the night to which there is no
morning, and leave nothing in their stead.

During these years Carlyle's former intimates were falling round him like
the leaves from an autumn tree, and the kind care of the few survivors,
the solicitous attention of his niece, nurse, and amanuensis, Mary
Aitken, yet left him desolate. Clough had died, and Thomas Erskine, and
John Forster, and Wilberforce, with whom he thought he agreed, and Mill,
his old champion and ally, with whom he so disagreed that he
almost maligned his memory--calling one of the most interesting of
autobiographies "the life of a logic-chopping machine." In March 1876 he
attended the funeral of Lady Augusta Stanley; in the following month his
brother Aleck died in Canada; and in 1878 his brother John at Dumfries.
He seemed destined to be left alone; his physical powers were waning. As
early as 1868 he and his last horse had their last ride together; later,
his right hand failed, and he had to write by dictation. In the gathering
gloom he began to look on death as a release from the shreds of life, and
to envy the old Roman mode of shuffling off the coil. His thoughts turned
more and more to Hamlet's question of the possible dreams hereafter, and
his longing for his lost Jeannie made him beat at the iron gates of the
"Undiscovered Country" with a yearning cry; but he could get no answer
from reason, and would not seek it in any form of superstition, least
of all the latest, that of stealing into heaven "by way of mesmeric and
spiritualistic trances." His question and answer are always--

Strength quite a stranger to me.... Life is verily a
weariness on those terms. Oftenest I feel willing to go, were
my time come. Sweet to rejoin, were it only in eternal sleep,
those that are away. That ... is now and then the whisper
of my worn-out heart, and a kind of solace to me. "But why
annihilation or eternal sleep?" I ask too. They and I are
alike in the will of the Highest.

"When," says Mr. Froude, "he spoke of the future and its uncertainties,
he fell back invariably on the last words of his favourite hymn--

Wir heissen euch hoffen."

His favourite quotations in those days were Macbeth's "To-morrow and
to-morrow and to-morrow"; Burns's line, "Had we never lo'ed sae
kindly,"--thinking of the tomb which he was wont to kiss in the gloamin'
in Haddington Church,--the lines from "The Tempest" ending, "our little
life is rounded with a sleep," and the dirge in "Cymbeline." He lived on
during the last years, save for his quiet walks with his biographer about
the banks of the Thames, like a ghost among ghosts, his physical life
slowly ebbing till, on February 4th 1881, it ebbed away. His remains
were, by his own desire, conveyed to Ecclefechan and laid under the
snow-clad soil of the rural churchyard, beside the dust of his kin. He
had objected to be buried, should the request be made (as it was by Dean
Stanley), in Westminster Abbey:[greek: andron gar epiphanon pasa gae

Of no man whose life has been so laid bare to us is it more difficult to
estimate the character than that of Thomas Carlyle; regarding no one of
equal eminence, with the possible exception of Byron, has opinion been
so divided. After his death there was a carnival of applause from his
countrymen in all parts of the globe, from Canton to San Francisco. Their
hot zeal, only equalled by that of their revelries over the memory of
Burns, was unrestrained by limit, order, or degree. No nation is warmer
than the Scotch in worship of its heroes when dead and buried: one
perfervid enthusiast says of the former "Atheist, Deist, and Pantheist":
"Carlyle is gone; his voice, pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
will be heard no more": the _Scotsman_ newspaper writes of him as
"probably the greatest of modern literary men;... before the volcanic
glare of his _French Revolution_ all Epics, ancient and modern, grow pale
and shadowy,... his like is not now left in the world." More recently a
stalwart Aberdonian, on helping to put a bust into a monument, exclaims
in a strain of genuine ardour, "I knew Carlyle, and I aver to you that
his heart was as large and generous as his brain was powerful; that
he was essentially a most lovable man, and that there were depths of
tenderness, kindliness, benevolence, and most delicate courtesy in him,
with all his seeming ruggedness and sternness, such as I have found
throughout my life rarely in any human being."

On the other side, a little later, after the publication of the
_Reminiscences_, _Blackwood_ denounced the "old man eloquent" as "a
blatant impostor, who speaks as if he were the only person who knew good
from bad. ... Every one and every thing dealt with in his _History_ is
treated in the tone of a virtuous Mephistopheles." The _World_
remarks that Carlyle has been made to pay the penalty of a posthumous
depreciation for a factitious fame; "but the game of venomous
recrimination was begun by himself.... There is little that is
extraordinary, still less that is heroic in his character. He had no
magnanimity about him ... he was full of littleness and weakness, of
shallow dogmatism and of blustering conceit." The _Quarterly_,
after alluding to Carlyle's style "as the eccentric expression of
eccentricity," denounces his choice of "heroes" as reckless of morality.
According to the same authority, he "was not a deep thinker, but he was a
great word-painter ... he has the inspiration as well as the contortions
of the Sibyl, the strength as well as the nodosities of the oak. ... In
the _French Revolution_ he rarely condescends to plain narrative ... it
resembles a drama at the Porte St. Martin, in so many acts and tableaux.
... The raisers of busts and statues in his honour are winging and
pointing new arrows aimed at the reputation of their most distinguished
contemporaries, and doing their best to perpetuate a baneful influence."
_Fraser_, no longer edited by Mr. Froude, swells the chorus of dissent:
"Money, for which he cared little, only came in quantity after the death
of his wife, when everything became indifferent to an old and life-weary
man. Who would be great at such a price? Who would buy so much misery
with so much labour? Most men like their work. In his Carlyle seems to
have found the curse imposed upon Adam.... He cultivated contempt of the
kindly race of men."

Ample texts for these and similar censures are to be found in the pages
of Mr. Froude, and he has been accused by Carlyle's devotees of having
supplied this material of malice prepense. No accusation was over more
ridiculously unjust. To the mind of every impartial reader, Froude
appears as one of the loyallest if one of the most infatuated of friends.
Living towards the close in almost daily communion with his master, and
in inevitable contact with his numerous frailties, he seems to have
revered him with a love that passeth understanding, and attributed to him
in good faith, as Dryden did in jest to the objects of his mock heroics,
every mental as well as every moral power, _e.g.,_ "Had Carlyle turned
his mind to it he would have been a great philologer." "A great
diplomatist was lost in Carlyle." "He would have done better as a man of
action than a man of words." By kicking the other diplomatists into the
sea, as he threatened to do with the urchins of Kirkcaldy! Froude's
panegyrics are in style and tone worthy of that put into the mouth of
Pericles by Thucydides, with which the modern biographer closes his
only too faithful record. But his claims for his hero--amounting to the
assertions that he was never seriously wrong; that he was as good as he
was great; that "in the weightier matters of the law his life had been
without speck or flaw"; that "such faults as he had were but as the
vapours which hang about a mountain, inseparable from the nature of the
man"; that he never, in their intercourse, uttered a "trivial word, nor
one which he had better have left unuttered"--these claims will never be
honoured, for they are refuted in every third page after that on which
they appear:--_e.g._ in the Biography, vol. iv. p. 258, we are told that
Carlyle's "knowledge was not in points or lines but complete and solid":
facing the remark we read, "He liked _ill_ men like Humboldt, Laplace,
or the author of the _Vestiges_. He refused Darwin's transmutation of
species as unproved: he fought against it, though I could see he dreaded
that it might turn out true." The statement that "he always spoke
respectfully of Macaulay" is soon followed by criticisms that make us
exclaim, "Save us from such respect." The extraordinary assertion that
Carlyle was "always just in speaking of living men" is safeguarded by the
quotation of large utterances of injustice and contempt for Coleridge,
Byron, Shelley, Keats, Comte, Balzac, Hugo, Lamb, George Eliot, and
disparaging patronage of Scott, of Jeffrey, of Mazzini, and of Mill. The
dog-like fidelity of Boswell and Eckermann was fitting to their attitude
and capacity; but the spectacle of one great writer surrendering himself
to another is a new testimony to the glamour of conversational genius.

[Footnote: This patronage of men, some quite, others nearly on his own
level, whom he delights in calling "small," "thin," and "poor," as if he
were the only big, fat, and rich, is more offensive than spurts of merely
dyspeptic abuse. As regards the libels on Lamb, Dr. Ireland has
endeavoured to establish that they were written in ignorance of the noble
tragedy of "Elia's" life; but this contention cannot be made good as
regards the later attacks.]

Carlyle was a great man, but a great man spoiled, that is, largely
soured. He was never a Timon; but, while at best a Stoic, he was at worst
a Cynic, emulous though disdainful, trying all men by his own standard,
and intolerant of a rival on the throne. To this result there contributed
the bleak though bracing environment of his early years, amid kindred
more noted for strength than for amenity, whom he loved, trusted, and
revered, but from whose grim creed, formally at least, he had to
tear himself with violent wrenches apart; his purgatory among the
border-ruffians of Annan school; his teaching drudgeries; his hermit
college days; ten years' struggle for a meagre competence; a lifelong
groaning under the Nessus shirt of the irritable yet stubborn
constitution to which genius is often heir; and above all his unusually
late recognition. There is a good deal of natural bitterness in reference
to the long refusal by the publishers of his first original work--an
idyll like Goldsmith's _Vicar of Wakefield_, and our finest prose poem in
philosophy. "Popularity," says Emerson, "is for dolls"; but it remains
to find the preacher, prophet, or poet wholly impervious to unjust
criticism. Neglect which crushes dwarfs only exasperates giants, but to
the latter also there is great harm done. Opposition affected Carlyle as
it affected Milton, it made him defiant, at times even fierce, to those
beyond his own inner circle. When he triumphed, he accepted his success
without a boast, but not without reproaches for the past. He was crowned;
but his coronation came too late, and the death of his wife paralysed his
later years.

Let those who from the Clyde to the Isis, from the Dee to the Straits,
make it their pastime to sneer at living worth, compare Ben Jonson's

Your praise and dispraise are to me alike,
One does not stroke me, nor the other strike,

with Samuel Johnson's, "It has been delayed till most of those whom I
wished to please are sunk into the grave, and success and failure are
empty sounds," and then take to heart the following:--

The "recent return of popularity greater than ever," which
I hear of, seems due alone to that late Edinburgh affair;
especially to the Edinburgh "Address," and affords new proof
of the singularly dark and feeble condition of "public
judgment" at this time. No idea, or shadow of an idea, is in
that Address but what had been set forth by me tens of times
before, and the poor gaping sea of prurient blockheadism
receives it as a kind of inspired revelation, and runs to
buy my books (it is said), now when I have got quite done
with their buying or refusing to buy. If they would give me
£10,000 a year and bray unanimously their hosannahs
heaven-high for the rest of my life, who now would there be
to get the smallest joy or profit from it? To me I feel as
if it would be a silent sorrow rather, and would bring me
painful retrospections, nothing else.

We require no open-sesame, no clumsy confidence from attaches flaunting
their intimacy, to assure us that there were "depths of tenderness" in
Carlyle. His susceptibility to the softer influences of nature, of family
life, of his few chosen friends, is apparent in almost every page of his
biography, above all in the _Reminiscences_, those supreme records of
regret, remorse, and the inspiration of bereavement. There is no surge of
sorrow in our literature like that which is perpetually tossed up in
the second chapter of the second volume, with the never-to-be-forgotten

Cherish what is dearest while you have it near you, and wait
not till it is far away. Blind and deaf that we are; oh,
think, if thou yet love anybody living, wait not till death
sweep down the paltry little dust clouds and dissonances of
the moment, and all be at last so mournfully clear and
beautiful, when it is too late!

Were we asked to bring together the three most pathetic sentences in our
tongue since Lear asked the question, "And have his daughters brought him
to this pass?" we should select Swift's comment on the lock of Stella,
"Only a woman's hair"; the cry of Tennyson's Rizpah, "The bones had moved
in my side"; and Carlyle's wail, "Oh that I had you yet but for five
minutes beside me, to tell you all!" But in answer we hear only the
flapping of the folds of Isis, "strepitumque Acherontis avari."

All of sunshine that remained in my life went out in that
sudden moment. All of strength too often seems to have
gone.... Were it permitted, I would pray, but to whom? I can
well understand the invocation of saints. One's prayer now
has to be voiceless, done with the heart still, but also
with the hands still more.... Her birthday. She not here--I
cannot keep it for her now, and send a gift to poor old
Betty, who next to myself remembers her in life-long love
and sacred sorrow. This is all I can do.... Time was to
bring relief, said everybody; but Time has not to any
extent, nor, in truth, did I much wish him

Eurydicen vox ipsa et frigida lingua,
Eurydicen toto referebant flumine ripae.

Carlyle's pathos, far from being confined to his own calamity, was ready
to awake at every touch. "I was walking with him," writes Froude, "one
Sunday afternoon in Battersea Park. In the open circle among the trees
was a blind man and his daughter, she singing hymns, he accompanying her
on some instrument. We stood listening. She sang Faber's 'Pilgrims of the
Night.' The words were trivial, but the air, though simple, had something
weird and unearthly about it. 'Take me away,' he said, after a few
minutes, 'I shall cry if I stay longer.'"

The melancholy, "often as of deep misery frozen torpid," that runs
through his writing, that makes him forecast death in life and paint the
springs of nature in winter hue, the "hoarse sea," the "bleared skies,"
the sunsets "beautiful and brief and wae," compels our compassion in a
manner quite different from the pictures of Sterne, and De Quincey,
and other colour dramatists, because we feel it is as genuine as the
melancholy of Burns. Both had the relief of humour, but Burns only of the
two was capable of gaiety. "Look up there," said Leigh Hunt, pointing to
the starry skies, "look at that glorious harmony that sings with infinite
voices an eternal song of hope in the soul of man." "Eh, it's a sair
sicht," was the reply.

We have referred to a few out of a hundred instances of Carlyle's
practical benevolence. To all deserving persons in misfortune he was a
good Samaritan, and like all benefactors the dupe of some undeserving.
Charity may be, like maternal affection, a form of self-indulgence, but
it is so only to kind-hearted men. In all that relates to money Carlyle's
career is exemplary. He had too much common sense to affect to despise
it, and was restive when he was underpaid; he knew that the labourer was
worthy of his hire. But, after hacking for Brewster he cannot be said to
have ever worked for wages, his concern was rather with the quality of
his work, and, regardless of results, he always did his best. A more
unworldly man never lived; from his first savings he paid ample tributes
to filial piety and fraternal kindness, and to the end of his life
retained the simple habits in which he had been trained. He hated waste
of all kinds, save in words, and carried his home frugalities even to
excess. In writing to James Aitken, engaged to his sister, "the Craw," he
says, "remember in marriage you have undertaken to do to others as you
would wish they should do to you." But this rede he did not reck.

"Carlyle," writes Longfellow, "was one of those men who sacrificed their
happiness to their work"; the misfortune is that the sacrifice did not
stop with himself. He seemed made to live with no one but himself.
Alternately courteous and cross-grained, all his dramatic power went into
his creations; he could not put himself into the place of those near him.
Essentially perhaps the bravest man of his age, he would not move an inch
for threat or flattery; centered in rectitude, conscience never made
him a coward. He bore great calamities with the serenity of a Marcus
Aurelius: his reception of the loss of his first volume of the _French
Revolution_ was worthy of Sidney or of Newton: his letters, when the
successive deaths of almost all that were dearest left him desolate, are
among the noblest, the most resigned, the most pathetic in biography.
Yet, says Mr. Froude, in a judgment which every careful reader must
endorse: "Of all men I have ever seen Carlyle was the least patient of
the common woes of humanity." "A positive Christian," says Mrs. Carlyle,
"in bearing others' pain, he was a roaring Thor when himself pricked by
a pin," and his biographer corroborates this: "If matters went well with
himself, it never occurred to him that they could be going ill with any
one else; and, on the other hand, if he were uncomfortable he required
all the world to be uncomfortable along with him." He did his work with
more than the tenacity of a Prescott or a Fawcett, but no man ever made
more noise over it than this apostle of silence. "Sins of passion he
could forgive, but those of insincerity never." Carlyle has no tinge of
insincerity; his writing, his conversation, his life, are absolutely,
dangerously, transparent. His utter genuineness was in the long run one
of the sources of his success. He always, if we allow for a habit of
rhetorical exaggeration, felt what he made others feel.

Sullen moods, and "words at random sent," those judging him from a
distance can easily condone; the errors of a hot head are pardonable to
one who, in his calmer hours, was ready to confess them. "Your temptation
and mine," he writes to his brother Alexander, "is a tendency to
imperiousness and indignant self-help; and, if no wise theoretical,
yet, practical forgetfulness and tyrannical contempt of other men." His
nicknaming mania was the inheritance of a family failing, always fostered
by the mocking-bird at his side. Humour, doubtless, ought to discount
many of his criticisms. Dean Stanley, in his funeral sermon, charitably
says, that in pronouncing the population of England to be "thirty
millions, mostly fools," Carlyle merely meant that "few are chosen and
strait is the gate," generously adding--"There was that in him, in spite
of his contemptuous descriptions of the people, which endeared him to
those who knew him best. The idols of their market-place he trampled
under foot, but their joys and sorrows, their cares and hopes, were to
him revered things." Another critic pleads for his discontent that it had
in it a noble side, like that of Faust, and that his harsh judgments of
eminent men were based on the belief that they had allowed meaner to
triumph over higher impulses, or influences of society to injure their
moral fibre. This plea, however, fails to cover the whole case. Carlyle's
ignorance in treating men who moved in spheres apart from his own, as the
leaders of science, definite theological enlightenment, or even poetry
and arts, was an intellectual rather than a moral flaw; but in the
implied assertion, "what I can't do is not worth doing," we have to
regret the influence of an enormous egotism stunting enormous powers,
which, beginning with his student days, possessed him to the last. The
fame of Newton, Leibnitz, Gibbon, whose works he came to regard as the
spoon-meat of his "rude untutored youth," is beyond the range of his
or of any shafts. When he trod on Mazzini's pure patriot career, as a
"rose-water imbecility," or maligned Mill's intrepid thought as that of a
mere machine, he was astray on more delicate ground, and alienated some
of his truest friends. Among the many curses of our nineteenth-century
literature denounced by its leading Censor, the worst, the want of
loyalty among literary men, he fails to denounce because he largely
shares in it. "No sadder proof," he declares, "can be given by a man of
his own littleness than disbelief in great men," and no one has done more
to retrieve from misconception the memories of heroes of the past;
but rarely does either he or Mrs. Carlyle say a good word for any
considerable English writer then living. It is true that he criticises,
more or less disparagingly, all his own works, from _Sartor,_ of which
he remarks that "only some ten pages are fused and harmonious," to his
self-entitled "rigmarole on the Norse Kings": but he would not let his
enemy say so; nor his friend. Mill's just strictures on the "Nigger
Pamphlet" he treats as the impertinence of a boy, and only to Emerson
would he grant the privilege to hold his own. _Per contra,_ he
overestimated those who were content to be his echoes.

Material help he refused with a red Indian pride; intellectual he used
and slighted. He renders scant justice to those who had preceded him in
his lines of historical investigation, as if they had been poachers on
his premises, _e.g._ Heath, the royalist writer of the Commonwealth
time, is "carrion Heath": Noble, a former biographer of Cromwell, is "my
reverend imbecile friend": his predecessors in _Friedrich,_ as Schlosser,
Preuss, Ranke, Förster, Vehse, are "dark chaotic dullards whose books
are mere blotches of printed stupor, tumbled mountains of marine stores
"--criticism valueless even when it raises the laughter due to a
pantomime. Carlyle assailed three sets of people:--

1. Real humbugs, or those who had behaved, or whom he believed to have
behaved, badly to him.

2. Persons from whom he differed, or whom he could not understand--as
Shelley, Keats, Lamb, Coleridge, and the leaders of Physics and

3. Persons who had befriended, but would not give him an unrestricted
homage or an implicit following, as Mill, Mazzini, Miss Martineau, etc.

The last series of assaults are hard to pardon. Had his strictures been
always just,--so winged with humorous epigram,--they would have blasted a
score of reputations: as it is they have only served to mar his own. He
was a typical Scotch student of the better class, stung by the *_oistros_
of their ambitious competition and restless push, wanting in repose,
never like

a gentleman at wise
With moral breadth of tomperament,

too apt to note his superiority with the sneer, "they call this man as
good as me," Bacon, in one of his finest antitheses, draws a contrast
between the love of Excellence and the love of Excelling. Carlyle is
possessed by both; he had none of the exaggerated caution which in others
of his race is apt to degenerate into moral cowardice: but when
he thought himself trod on he became, to use his own figure, "a
rattlesnake," and put out fangs like those of the griffins curiously, if
not sardonically, carved on the tombs of his family in the churchyard at

Truth, in the sense of saying what he thought, was one of his ruling
passions. To one of his brothers on the birth of a daughter, he writes,
"Train her to this, as the cornerstone of all morality, to stand by the
truth, to abhor a lie as she does hell-fire." The "gates of hell" is the
phrase of Achilles; but Carlyle has no real point of contact with the
Greek love of abstract truth. He objects that "Socrates is terribly at
ease in Zion": he liked no one to be at ease anywhere. He is angry with
Walter Scott because he hunted with his friends over the breezy heath
instead of mooning alone over twilight moors. Read Scott's _Memoirs_ in
the morning, the _Reminiscences_ at night, and dispute if you like about
the greater genius, but never about the healthier, better, and larger

Hebraism, says Matthew Arnold, is the spirit which obeys the mandate,
"walk by your light"; Hellenism the spirit which remembers the other,
"have a care your light be not darkness." The former prefers doing to
thinking, the latter is bent on finding the truth it loves. Carlyle is
a Hebraist unrelieved and unretrieved by the Hellene. A man of
inconsistencies, egotisms, Alpine grandeurs and crevasses, let us take
from him what the gods or protoplasms have allowed. His way of life,
duly admired for its stern temperance, its rigidity of noble aim--eighty
years spent in contempt of favour, plaudit, or reward,--left him austere
to frailty other than his own, and wrapt him in the repellent isolation
which is the wrong side of uncompromising dignity. He was too great to
be, in the common sense, conceited. All his consciousness of power left
him with the feeling of Newton, "I am a child gathering shells on the
shore": but what sense he had of fallibility arose from his glimpse of
the infinite sea, never from any suspicion that, in any circumstances, he
might be wrong and another mortal right: Shelley's lines on Byron--

The sense that he was greater than his kind
Had struck, methinks, his eagle spirit blind
By gazing on its own exceeding light.

fit him, like Ruskin's verdict, "What can you say of Carlyle but that he
was born in the clouds and struck by the lightning?" which withers while
it immortalises.

[Footnote: In the _Times_ of February 7th 1881, there appeared an
interesting account of Carlyle's daily routine. "No book hack could have
surpassed the regularity and industry with which he worked early and late
in his small attic. A walk before breakfast was part of the day's duties.
At ten o'clock in the morning, whether the spirit moved him or not, he
took up his pen and laboured hard until three o'clock. Nothing, not even
the opening of the morning letters, was allowed to distract him. Then
came walking, answering letters, and seeing friends.... In the evening he
read and prepared for the work of the morrow."]



Carlyle was so essentially a Preacher that the choice of a profession
made for him by his parents was in some measure justified; but he was
also a keen Critic, unamenable to ecclesiastic or other rule, a leader of
the revolutionary spirit of the age, even while protesting against its
extremes: above all, he was a literary Artist. Various opinions will
continue to be held as to the value of his sermons; the excellence of his
best workmanship is universally acknowledged. He was endowed with few of
the qualities which secure a quick success--fluency, finish of style,
the art of giving graceful utterance to current thought; he had in
full measure the stronger if slower powers--sound knowledge, infinite
industry, and the sympathetic insight of penetrative imagination--that
ultimately hold the fastnesses of fame. His habit of startling his
hearers, which for a time restricted, at a later date widened their
circle. There is much, sometimes even tiresome, repetition in Carlyle's
work; the range of his ideas is limited, he plays on a few strings, with
wonderfully versatile variations; in reading his later we are continually
confronted with the "old familiar faces" of his earlier essays. But,
after the perfunctory work for Brewster he wrote nothing wholly
commonplace; occasionally paradoxical to the verge of absurdity, he is
never dull.

Setting aside his TRANSLATIONS, always in prose,--often in
verse,--masterpieces of their kind, he made his first mark in CRITICISM,
which may be regarded as a higher kind of translation: the great value of
his work in this direction is due to his so regarding it. Most criticism
has for its aim to show off the critic; good criticism interprets the
author. Fifty years ago, in allusion to methods of reviewing, not even
now wholly obsolete, Carlyle wrote:--

The first and most convenient is for the reviewer to perch
himself resolutely, as it were, on the shoulder of his
author, and therefrom to show as if he commanded him and
looked down upon him by natural superiority of stature.
Whatsoever the great man says or does the little man shall
treat with an air of knowingness and light condescending
mockery, professing with much covert sarcasm that this or
that is beyond _his_ comprehension, and cunningly
asking his readers if _they_ comprehend it.

There is here perhaps some "covert sarcasm" directed against
contemporaries who forgot that their mission was to pronounce on the
merits of the books reviewed, and not to patronise their authors; it may
be set beside the objection to Jeffrey's fashion of saying, "I like this;
I do not like that," without giving the reason why. But in this instance
the writer did reck his own rede. The temptation of a smart critic is to
seek or select legitimate or illegitimate objects of attack; and that
Carlyle was well armed with the shafts of ridicule is apparent in his
essays as in his histories; superabundantly so in his letters and
conversation. His examination of the _German Playwrights_, of _Taylor's
German Literature_, and his inimitable sketch of Herr Döring, the hapless
biographer of Richter, are as amusing as is Macaulay's _coup de grâce_ to
Robert Montgomery. But the graver critic would have us take to heart
these sentences of his essay on Voltaire:--

Far be it from us to say that solemnity is an essential of
greatness; that no great man can have other than a rigid
vinegar aspect of countenance, never to be thawed or warmed
by billows of mirth. There are things in this world to be
laughed at as well as things to be admired. Nevertheless,
contempt is a dangerous element to sport in; a deadly one if
we habitually live in it. The faculty of love, of admiration,
is to be regarded as a sign and the measure of high souls;
unwisely directed, it leads to many evils; but without it,
there cannot be any good. Ridicule, on the other hand, is
the smallest of all faculties that other men are at pains to
repay with any esteem.... Its nourishment and essence is
denial, which hovers only on the surface, while knowledge
dwells far below,... it cherishes nothing but our vanity,
which may in general be left safely enough to shift for

[Footnote: As an estimate of Voltaire this brilliant essay is inadequate.
Carlyle's maxim, we want to be told "not what is _not_ true but what _is_
true," prevented him from appreciating the great work of Encyclopaedists.]

We may compare with this one of the writer's numerous warnings to young
men taking to literature, as to drinking, in despair of anything better
to do, ending with the exhortation, "Witty above all things, oh, be not
witty"; or turn to the passage in the review of Sir Walter Scott:--

Is it with ease or not with ease that a man shall do his
best in any shape; above all, in this shape justly named of
soul's travail, working in the deep places of thought?... Not
so, now nor at any time.... Virgil and Tacitus, were they
ready writers? The whole _Prophecies of Isaiah_ are not
equal in extent to this cobweb of a Review article.
Shakespeare, we may fancy, wrote with rapidity; but not till
he had thought with intensity,... no easy writer he. Neither
was Milton one of the mob of gentlemen that write with case.
Goethe tells us he "had nothing sent to him in his sleep," no
page of his but he knew well how it came there.
Schiller--"konnte nie fertig werden"--never could get done.
Dante sees himself "growing lean" over his _Divine Comedy_;
in stern solitary death wrestle with it, to prevail over it
and do it, if his uttermost faculty may; hence too it is done
and prevailed over, and the fiery life of it endures for
evermore among men. No; creation, one would think, cannot be
easy; your Jove has severe pains and fire flames in the head,
out of which an armed Pallas is struggling! As for
manufacture, that is a different matter.... Write by steam
if thou canst contrive it and sell it, but hide it like

In these and frequent similar passages lies the secret of Carlyle's slow
recognition, long struggle, and ultimate success; also of his occasional
critical intolerance. Commander-in-chief of the "red artillery," he sets
too little store on the graceful yet sometimes decisive charges of the
light brigades of literature. He feels nothing but contempt for the
banter of men like Jerrold; despises the genial pathos of Lamb; and
salutes the most brilliant wit and exquisite lyrist of our century with
the Puritanical comment, "Blackguard Heine." He deified work as he
deified strength; and so often stimulated his imitators to attempt to
leap beyond their shadows. Hard work will not do everything: a man can
only accomplish what he was born fit for. Many, in the first flush of
ambition doomed to wreck, are blind to the fact that it is not in every
ploughman to be a poet, nor in every prize-student to be a philosopher.
Nature does half: after all perhaps the larger half. Genius has been
inadequately defined as "an infinite capacity for taking trouble"; no
amount of pumping can draw more water than is in the well. Himself in
"the chamber of little ease," Carlyle travestied Goethe's "worship of
sorrow" till it became a pride in pain. He forgot that rude energy
requires restraint. Hercules Furens and Orlando Furioso did more than cut
down trees; they tore them up; but to no useful end. His power is often
almost Miltonic; it is never Shakespearian; and his insistent earnestness
would run the risk of fatiguing us were it not redeemed by his
humour. But he errs on the better side; and his example is a salutary
counteractive in an age when the dust of so many skirmishers obscures the
air, and laughter is too readily accepted as the test of truth, his stern
conception of literature accounts for his exaltations of the ideal, and
denunciations of the actual, profession of letters in passages which,
from his habit of emphasising opposite sides of truth, instead of
striking a balance, appear almost side by side in contradiction. The
following condenses the ideal:--

If the poor and humble toil that we have food, must not the
high and glorious toil for him in return, that he may have
guidance, freedom, immortality? These two in all degrees
I honour; all else is chaff and dust, which let the wind
blow whither it listeth. Doubt, desire, sorrow, remorse,
indignation, despair itself--all these like hell-hounds lie
beleaguering the souls of the poor day worker as of every
man; but he bends himself with free valour against his task,
and all these are stifled--all these shrink murmuring far
off in their caves.

Against this we have to set innumerable tirades on the crime of worthless
writing, _e.g._--

No mortal has a right to wag his tongue, much less to wag
his pen, without saying something; he knows not what
mischief he does, past computation, scattering words without
meaning, to afflict the whole world yet before they cease.
For thistle-down flies abroad on all winds and airs of
wind.... Ship-loads of fashionable novels, sentimental
rhymes, tragedies, farces ... tales by flood and field are
swallowed monthly into the bottomless pool; still does the
press toil,... and still in torrents rushes on the great
army of publications to their final home; and still oblivion,
like the grave, cries give! give! How is it that of all
these countless multitudes no one can ... produce ought that
shall endure longer than "snowflake on the river? Because
they are foam, because there is no reality in them. . . ."
Not by printing ink alone does man live. Literature, as
followed at present, is but a species of brewing or cooking,
where the cooks use poison and vend it by telling
innumerable lies.

These passages owe their interest to the attestation of their sincerity
by the writer's own practice. "Do not," he counsels one of his unknown
correspondents, "take up a subject because it is singular and will get
you credit, but because you _love_ it;" and he himself acted on the
rule. Nothing more impresses the student of Carlyle's works than his
_thoroughness._ He never took a task in hand without the determination to
perform it to the utmost of his ability; consequently when he satisfied
himself that he was master of his subject he satisfied his readers; but
this mastery was only attained, as it is only attainable, by the most
rigorous research. He seems to have written down his results with
considerable fluency: the molten ore flowed freely forth, but the process
of smelting was arduous. The most painful part of literary work is not
the actual composition, but the accumulation of details, the wearisome
compilation of facts, weighing of previous criticisms, the sifting of the
grains of wheat from the bushels of chaff. This part of his task Carlyle
performed with an admirable conscientiousness. His numerous letters
applying for out-of-the-way books to buy or borrow, for every pamphlet
throwing light on his subject, bear testimony to the careful exactitude
which rarely permitted him to leave any record unread or any worthy
opinion untested about any event of which or any person of whom he
undertook to write. From Templand (1833) he applies for seven volumes of
Beaumarchais, three of Bassompierre, the Memoirs of Abbé Georgel, and
every attainable account of Cagliostro and the Countess de la Motte, to
fuse into _The Diamond Necklace._ To write the essay on _Werner_ and
the _German Playwrights_ he swam through seas of trash. He digested the
whole of _Diderot_ for one review article. He seems to have read through
_Jean Paul Richter,_ a feat to accomplish which Germans require a
special dictionary. When engaged on the Civil War he routed up a whole
shoal of obscure seventeenth-century papers from Yarmouth, the remnant of
a yet larger heap, "read hundredweights of dreary books," and endured
"a hundred Museum headaches." In grappling with _Friedrich_ he waded
through so many gray historians that we can forgive his sweeping
condemnation of their dulness. He visited all the scenes and places of
which he meant to speak, from St. Ives to Prague, and explored the
battlefields. Work done after this fashion seldom brings a swift return;
but if it is utilised and made vivid by literary genius it has a claim to
permanence. Bating a few instances where his sense of proportion is
defective, or his eccentricity is in excess, Carlyle puts his ample
material to artistic use; seldom making ostentation of detail, but
skilfully concentrating, so that we read easily and readily recall what he
has written. Almost everything he has done has made a mark: his best work
in criticism is final, it does not require to be done again. He interests
us in the fortunes of his leading characters: _first_, because he feels
with them; _secondly_, because he knows how to distinguish the essence
from the accidents of their lives, what to forget and what to remember,
where to begin and where to stop. Hence, not only his set biographies, as
of Schiller and of Sterling, but the shorter notices in his Essays, are
intrinsically more complete and throw more real light on character than
whole volumes of ordinary memoirs.

With the limitations above referred to, and in view of his antecedents,
the range of Carlyle's critical appreciation is wonderfully wide. Often
perversely unfair to the majority of his English contemporaries, the
scales seem to fall from his eyes in dealing with the great figures of
other nations. The charity expressed in the saying that we should judge
men, not by the number of their faults, but by the amount of their
deflection from the circle, great or small, that bounds their being,
enables him often to do justice to those most widely differing in creed,
sentiment, and lines of activity from one another and from himself.
When treating congenial themes he errs by overestimate rather than by
depreciation: among the qualities of his early work, which afterwards
suffered some eclipse in the growth of other powers, is its flexibility.
It was natural for Carlyle, his successor in genius in the Scotch
lowlands, to give an account of Robert Burns which throws all previous
criticism of the poet into the shade. Similarly he has strong affinities
to Johnson, Luther, Knox, Cromwell, to all his so-called heroes: but he
is fair to the characters, if not always to the work, of Voltaire and
Diderot, slurs over or makes humorous the escapades of Mirabeau, is
undeterred by the mysticism of Novalis, and in the fervour of his worship
fails to see the gulf between himself and Goethe.

Carlyle's ESSAYS mark an epoch, _i.e._ the beginning of a new era, in
the history of British criticism. The able and vigorous writers who
contributed to the early numbers of the _Edinburgh_ and _Quarterly
Reviews_ successfully applied their taste and judgment to such works as
fell within their sphere, and could be fairly tested by their canons; but
they passed an alien act on everything that lay beyond the range of their
insular view. In dealing with the efforts of a nation whose literature,
the most recent in Europe save that of Russia, had only begun to command
recognition, their rules were at fault and their failures ridiculous. If
the old formulas have been theoretically dismissed, and a conscientious
critic now endeavours to place himself in the position of his author,
the change is largely due to the influence of Carlyle's _Miscellanies._
Previous to their appearance, the literature of Germany, to which half
of these papers are devoted, had been (with the exception of Sir Walter
Scott's translation of _Goetz von Berlichingen,_ De Quincey's travesties,
and Taylor's renderings from Lessing) a sealed book to English readers,
save those who were willing to breathe in an atmosphere of Coleridgean
mist. Carlyle first made it generally known in England, because he was
the first fully to apprehend its meaning. The _Life of Schiller,_ which
the author himself depreciated, remains one of the best of comparatively
short biographies, it abounds in admirable passages (conspicuously the
contrast between the elder and the younger of the Dioscuri at Weimar) and
has the advantage to some readers of being written in classical English

To the essays relating to Germany, which we may accept as the _disjecta
membra_ of the author's unpublished History, there is little to add.
In these volumes we have the best English account of the Nibelungen
Lied--the most graphic, and in the main most just analyses of the genius
of Heyne, Rchter, Novalis, Schiller, and, above all, of Goethe, who is
recorded to have said, "Carlyle is almost more at home in our literature
than ourselves." With the Germans he is on his chosen ground; but the
range of his sympathies is most apparent in the portrait gallery of
eighteenth-century Frenchmen that forms, as it were, a proscenium to his
first great History. Among other papers in the same collection the most
prominent are the _Signs of the Times_ and _Characteristics,_ in which
he first distinctly broaches some of his peculiar views on political
philosophy and life.

The scope and some of the limitations of Carlyle's critical power are
exhibited in his second Series of Lectures, delivered in 1838, when (_æt_.
43) he had reached the maturity of his powers. The first three of these
lectures, treating of Ancient History and Literature, bring into strong
relief the speaker's inadequate view of Greek thought and civilisation:--

Greek transactions had never anything alive, no result for
us, they were dead entirely ... all left is a few ruined
towers, masses of stone and broken statuary.... The writings
of Socrates are made up of a few wire-drawn notions about
virtue; there is no conclusion, no word of life in him.

[Footnote: Though a mere reproduction of the notes of Mr. Chisholm Anstey,
this posthumous publication is justified by its interest and obvious
authenticity. The appearance in a prominent periodical (while these sheets
are passing through the press) of _Wotton Reinfred_ is more open to
question. This fragment of a romance, partly based on the plan of _Wilhelm
Meister_, with shadowy love episodes recalling the manner of the "Minerva
Press," can add nothing to Carlyle's reputation.]

These and similar dogmatic utterances are comments of the Hebrew on the
Hellene. To the Romans, "the men of antiquity," he is more just, dwelling
on their agriculture and road-making as their "greatest work written
on the planet;" but the only Latin author he thoroughly appreciates is
Tacitus, "a Colossus on edge of dark night." Then follows an exaltation
of the Middle Ages, in which "we see belief getting the victory over
unbelief," in the strain of Newman's _Grammar of Assent_. On the
surrender of Henry to Hildebrand at Canossa his approving comment is,
"the clay that is about man is always sufficiently ready to assert its
rights; the danger is always the other way, that the spiritual part of
man will become overlaid with the bodily part." In the later struggle
between the Popes and the Hohenstaufens his sympathy is with Gregory and
Innocent. In the same vein is his praise of Peter the Hermit, whose motto
was not the "action, action" of Demosthenes, but, "belief, belief." In
the brief space of those suggestive though unequal discourses the speaker
allows awkward proximity to some of the self-contradictions which, even
when scattered farther apart, perplex his readers and render it impossible
to credit his philosophy with more than a few strains of consistent

In one page "the judgments of the heart are of more value than those of
the head." In the next "morals in a man are the counterpart of the
intellect that is in him." The Middle Ages were "a healthy age," and
therefore there was next to no Literature. "The strong warrior disdained
to write." "Actions will be preserved when all writers are forgotten."
Two days later, apropos of Dante, he says, "The great thing which any
nation can do is to produce great men.... When the Vatican shall have
crumbled to dust, and St. Peter's and Strassburg Minster be no more; for
thousands of years to come Catholicism will survive in this sublime
relic of antiquity--the _Divina Commedia."_

[Footnote: It has been suggested that Carlyle may have been in this
instance a student of Vauvenargues, who in the early years of the much-
maligned eighteenth century wrote "Les graudes pensées viennent du

Passing to Spain, Carlyle salutes Cervantes and the Cid,--calling Don
Quixote the "poetry of comedy," "the age of gold in self-mockery,"--pays
a more reserved tribute to Calderon, ventures on the assertion that
Cortes was "as great as Alexander," and gives a sketch, so graphic that
it might serve as a text for Motley's great work, of the way in which
the decayed Iberian chivalry, rotten through with the Inquisition, broke
itself on the Dutch dykes. After a brief outline of the rise of the
German power, which had three avatars--the overwhelming of Rome, the
Swiss resistance to Austria, and the Reformation--we have a rough
estimate of some of the Reformers. Luther is exalted even over Knox;
Erasmus is depreciated, while Calvin and Melanchthon are passed by.

The chapter on the Saxons, in which the writer's love of the sea appears
in picturesque reference to the old rover kings, is followed by unusually
commonplace remarks on earlier English literature, interspersed with some
of Carlyle's refrains.

The mind is one, and consists not of bundles of faculties at
all ... the same features appear in painting, singing,
fighting ... when I hear of the distinction between the poet
and the thinker, I really see no difference at all.... Bacon
sees, Shakespeare sees through,... Milton is altogether
sectarian--a Presbyterian one might say--he got his
knowledge out of Knox.... Eve is a cold statue.

Coming to the well-belaboured eighteenth century--when much was done of
which the nineteenth talks, and massive books were written that we are
content to criticise--we have the inevitable denunciations of scepticism,
materialism, argumentation, logic; the quotation, (referred to a motto
"in the Swiss gardens"), "Speech is silvern, silence is golden," and a
loud assertion that all great things are silent. The age is commended
for Watt's steam engine, Arkwright's spinning jenny, and Whitfield's
preaching, but its policy and theories are alike belittled. The summaries
of the leading writers are interesting, some curious, and a few absurd.
On the threshold of the age Dryden is noted "as a great poet born in the
worst of times": Addison as "an instance of one formal man doing great
things": Swift is pronounced "by far the greatest man of that time, not
unfeeling," who "carried sarcasm to an epic pitch": Pope, we are told,
had "one of the finest heads ever known." Sterne is handled with a
tenderness that contrasts with the death sentence pronounced on him by
Thackeray, "much is forgiven him because he loved much,... a good simple
being after all." Johnson, the "much enduring," is treated as in the
_Heroes_ and the Essay. Hume, with "a far duller kind of sense," is
commended for "noble perseverance and Stoic endurance of failure; but his
eye was not open to faith," etc. On which follows a stupendous criticism
of Gibbon, whom Carlyle, returning to his earlier and juster view, ended
by admiring.

With all his swagger and bombast, no man ever gave a more
futile account of human things than he has done of the
_Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_.

The sketch of the Pre-Revolution period is slight, and marked by a
somewhat shallow reference to Rousseau. The last lecture on the recent
German writers is a mere _réchauffé_ of the Essays. Carlyle closes
with the famous passage from Richter, one of those which indicate the
influence in style as in thought of the German over the Scotch humorist.
"It is now the twelfth hour of the night, birds of darkness are on the
wing, the spectres uprear, the dead walk, the living dream. Thou, Eternal
Providence, wilt cause the day to dawn." The whole volume is a testimony
to the speaker's power of speech, to his often unsurpassed penetration,
and to the hopeless variance of the often rapidly shifting streams of his

Detailed criticism of Carlyle's HISTORIES belongs to the sphere of
separate disquisitions. Here it is only possible to take note of their
general characteristics. His conception of what history should be is
shared with Macaulay. Both writers protest against its being made a mere
record of "court and camp," of royal intrigue and state rivalry, of
pageants of procession, or chivalric encounters. Both find the sources of
these outwardly obtrusive events in the underground current of national
sentiment, the conditions of the civilisation from which they were
evolved, the prosperity or misery of the masses of the people.

The essence of history does not lie in laws, senate-houses,
or battle-fields, but in the tide of thought and action--the
world of existence that in gloom and brightness blossoms and
fades apart from these.

But Carlyle differs from Macaulay in his passion for the concrete. The
latter presents us with pictures to illustrate his political theory; the
former leaves his pictures to speak for themselves. "Give him a fact,"
says Emerson, "he loaded you with thanks; a theory, with ridicule or
even abuse." It has been said that with Carlyle History was philosophy
teaching by examples. He himself defines it as "the essence of
innumerable biographies." He individualises everything he meets; his
dislike of abstractions is everywhere extreme. Thus while other writers
have expanded biography into history, Carlyle condenses history into
biography. Even most biographies are too vague for him. He delights in
Boswell: he glides over their generalisations to pick out some previously
obscure record from Clarendon or Hume. Even in _The French Revolution,_
where the author has mainly to deal with masses in tumult, he gives most
prominence to their leaders. They march past us, labelled with strange
names, in the foreground of the scene, on which is being enacted the
death wrestle of old Feudalism and young Democracy. This book is unique
among modern histories for a combination of force and insight only
rivalled by the most incisive passages of the seventh book of Thucydides,
of Tacitus, of Gibbon, and of Michelet.

[Footnote: _Vide_ a comparison of Carlyle and Michelet in Dr. Oswald's
interesting and suggestive little volume of criticism and selection,
_Thomas Carlyle, ein Lebensbild und Goldkörner aus seinen Werken._]

_The French Revolution_ is open to the charge of being a comment and a
prophecy rather than a narrative: the reader's knowledge of the main
events of the period is too much assumed for the purpose of a school
book. Even Dryasdust will turn when trod on, and this book has been a
happy hunting field to aggressive antiquarians, to whom the mistake of a
day in date, the omission or insertion of a letter in a name, is of more
moment than the difference between vitalising or petrifying an era. The
lumber merchants of history are the born foes of historians who, like
Carlyle and Mr. Froude, have manifested their dramatic power of making
the past present and the distant near. That the excess of this power is
not always compatible with perfect impartiality may be admitted; for a
poetic capacity is generally attended by heats of enthusiasm, and is
liable to errors of detail; but without some share of it--

Die Zeiten der Vergangenheit
Sind uns ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln.

Mere research, the unearthing and arrangement of what Sir Philip Sidney
calls "old moth-eaten records," supplies material for the work of the
historian proper; and, occasionally to good purpose, corrects it, but, as
a rule, with too much flourish. Applying this minute criticism to _The
French Revolution,_ one reviewer has found that the author has given the
wrong number to a regiment: another esteemed scholar has discovered that
there are seven errors in the famous account of the flight to Varennes,
to wit:--the delay in the departure was due to Bouille, not to the Queen;
she did not lose her way and so delay the start; Ste. Menehould is too
big to be called a village; on the arrest, it was the Queen who asked for
hot water and eggs; the King only left the coach once; it went rather
faster than is stated; and, above all, _infandum!_ it was not painted
yellow, but green and black. This criticism does not in any degree
detract from the value of one of the most vivid and substantially
accurate narratives in the range of European literature. Carlyle's object
was to convey the soul of the Revolution, not to register its upholstery.
The annalist, be he dryasdust or gossip, is, in legal phrase, "the devil"
of the prose artist, whose work makes almost as great a demand on the
imaginative faculty as that of the poet. Historiography is related to
History as the Chronicles of Holinshed and the Voyages of Hakluyt to the
Plays of Shakespeare, plays which Marlborough confessed to have been
the main source of his knowledge of English history. Some men are born
philologists or antiquarians; but, as the former often fail to see the
books because of the words, so the latter cannot read the story for the
dates. The mass of readers require precisely what has been contemptuously
referred to as the "Romance of History," provided it leaves with them
an accurate impression, as well as an inspiring interest. Save in his
over-hasty acceptance of the French _blague_ version of "The Sinking of
the Vengeur," Carlyle has never laid himself open to the reproach of
essential inaccuracy. As far as possible for a man of genius, he was
a devotee of facts. He is never a careless, though occasionally
an impetuous writer; his graver errors are those of emotional
misinterpretation. It has been observed that, while contemning
Robespierre, he has extenuated the guilt of Danton as one of the main
authors of the September massacres, and, more generally, that "his
quickness and brilliancy made him impatient of systematic thought." But
his histories remain the best illuminations of fact in our language. _The
French Revolution_ is a series of flame-pictures; every page is on fire;
we read the whole as if listening to successive volleys of artillery:
nowhere has such a motley mass been endowed with equal life. This book
alone vindicates Lowell's panegyric: "the figures of most historians seem
like dolls stuffed with bran, whose whole substance runs through any hole
that criticism may tear in them; but Carlyle's are so real that if you
prick them they bleed."

When Carlyle generalises, as in the introductions to his Essays, he is
apt to thrust his own views on his subject and on his readers; but,
unlike De Quincey, who had a like love of excursus, he comes to the point
before the close.

The one claimed the privilege, assumed by Coleridge, of starting from no
premises and arriving at no conclusion; the other, in his capacity as
a critic, arrives at a conclusion, though sometimes from questionable
premises. It is characteristic of his habit of concentrating, rather than
condensing, that Carlyle abandoned his design of a history of the Civil
Wars for _Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches._ The events of the
period, whose issues the writer has firmly grasped, are brought into
prominence mainly as they elucidate the career of his hero; but the
"elucidations" have been accepted, with a few reservations, as final. No
other work has gone so far to reverse a traditional estimate. The old
current conceptions of the Protector are refuted out of his own mouth;
but it was left for his editor to restore life to the half-forgotten
records, and sweep away the clouds that obscured their revelations of a
great though rugged character. _Cromwell_ has been generally accepted
in Scotland as Carlyle's masterpiece--a judgment due to the fact of its
being, among the author's mature works, the least apparently opposed
to the theological views prevalent in the north of our island. In
reality--though containing some of his finest descriptions and
battle-pieces, conspicuously that of "Dunbar"--it is the least artistic
of his achievements, being overladen with detail and superabounding in
extract. A good critic has said that it was a labour of love, like
Spedding's _Bacon;_ but that the correspondence, lavishly reproduced in
both works, has "some of the defects of lovers' letters for those to whom
they are not addressed."

[Footnote: In _St. James' Gazette,_ February 11th, 1881.]

Carlyle has established that Oliver was not a hypocrite, "not a man of
falsehood, but a man of truth": he has thrown doubts on his being a
fanatic; but he has left it open to M. Guizot to establish that his later
rule was a practical despotism.

In _Friedrich II._ he undertook a yet greater task; and his work
stretching over a wider arena, is, of necessity, more of a history, less
of a biography, than any of his others. In constructing and composing it
he was oppressed not only by the magnitude and complexity of his theme,
but, for the first time, by hesitancies as to his choice of a hero.
He himself confessed, "I never was admitted much to _Friedrich's_
confidence, and I never cared very much about him." Yet he determined,
almost of malice prepense, to exalt the narrow though vivid Prussian
as "the last of the kings, the one genuine figure in the eighteenth
century," and though failing to prove his case, he has, like a loyal
lawyer, made the best of his brief. The book embodies and conveys the
most brilliant and the most readable account of a great part of the
century, and nothing he has written bears more ample testimony to the
writer's pictorial genius. It is sometimes garrulous with the fluency of
an old man eloquent; parts of the third volume, with its diffuse extracts
from the king's survey of his realm, are hard if not weary reading; but
the rest is a masterpiece of historic restoration. The introductory
portion, leading us through one of the most tangled woods of genealogy
and political adjustment, is relieved from tedium by the procession
of the half-forgotten host of German worthies,--St. Adalbert and his
mission; old Barbarossa; Leopold's mystery; Conrad and St. Elizabeth;
Ptolemy Alphonso; Otto with the arrow; Margaret with the mouth; Sigismund
_supra grammaticam_; Augustus the physically strong; Albert Achilles and
Albert Alcibiades; Anne of Cleves; Mr. John Kepler,--who move on the
pages, more brightly "pictured" than those of Livy, like marionettes
inspired with life. In the main body of the book the men and women of the
Prussian court are brought before us in fuller light and shade. Friedrich
himself, at Sans Souci, with his cocked-hat, walking-stick and wonderful
gray eyes; Sophia Charlotte's grace, wit, and music; Wilhelmina and her
book; the old Hyperborean; the black artists Seckendorf and Grumkow;
George I. and his blue-beard chamber; the little drummer; the Old
Dessaner; the cabinet Venus; Grävenitz Hecate; Algarotti; Goetz in his
tower; the tragedy of Katte; the immeasurable comedy of Maupertuis, the
flattener of the earth, and Voltaire; all these and a hundred more are
summoned by a wizard's wand from the land of shadows, to march by
the central figures of these volumes; to dance, flutter, love, hate,
intrigue, and die before our eyes. It is the largest and most varied
showbox in all history; a prelude to a series of battle-pieces--Rossbach,
Leuthen, Molwitz, Zorndorf--nowhere else, save in the author's own pages,
approached in prose, and rarely rivalled out of Homer's verse.

Carlyle's style, in the chiar-oscuro of which his Histories and
three-fourths of his Essays are set, has naturally provoked much
criticism and some objurgation. M. Taine says it is "exaggerated and
demoniacal." Hallam could not read _The French Revolution_ because of its
"abominable" style, and Wordsworth, whose own prose was perfectly limpid,
is reported to have said, "No Scotchman can write English. C---- is a pest
to the language."

[Footnote: Carlyle with equal unfairness disparaged Hallam's _Middle
Ages:--"Eh, the poor miserable skeleton of a book," and regarded the
_Literature of Europe_ as a valley of dry bones.]

Carlyle's style is not that of Addison, of Berkeley, or of Helps; its
peculiarities are due to the eccentricity of an always eccentric being;
but it is neither affected nor deliberately imitated. It has been
plausibly asserted that his earlier manner of writing, as in _Schiller,_
under the influence of Jeffrey, was not in his natural voice. "They
forget," he said, referring to his critics, "that the style is the skin
of the writer, not a coat: and the public is an old woman." Erratic,
metaphorical, elliptical to excess, and therefore a dangerous model,
"the mature oaken Carlylese style," with its freaks, "nodosities and
angularities," is as set and engrained in his nature as the _Birthmark_
in Hawthorne's romance. To recast a chapter of the _Revolution_ in the
form of a chapter of Macaulay would be like rewriting Tacitus in the
form of Cicero, or Browning in the form of Pope. Carlyle is seldom
obscure, the energy of his manner is part of his matter; its abruptness
corresponds to the abruptness of his thought, which proceeds often as
it were by a series of electric shocks, that threaten to break through
the formal restraints of an ordinary sentence. He writes like one who
must, under the spell of his own winged words; at all hazards,
determined to convey his meaning; willing, like Montaigne, to "despise
no phrase of those that run in the streets," to speak in strange tongues,
and even to coin new words for the expression of a new emotion. It is
his fashion to care as little for rounded phrase as for logical argument:
and he rather convinces and persuades by calling up a succession of
feelings than by a train of reasoning. He repeats himself like a
preacher, instead of condensing like an essayist. The American Thoreau
writes in the course of an incisive survey:--

Carlyle's ... mastery over the language is unrivalled; it
is with him a keen, resistless weapon; his power of words
is endless. All nature, human and external, is ransacked to
serve and run his errands. The bright cutlery, after all the
dross of Birmingham has been thrown aside, is his style....
He has "broken the ice, and the torrent streams forth." He
drives six-in-hand over ruts and streams and never upsets....
With wonderful art he grinds into paint for his picture all
his moods and experiences, and crashes his way through
shoals of dilettante opinions. It is not in man to determine
what his style shall be, if it is to be his own.

But though a rugged, Carlyle was the reverse of a careless or ready
writer. He weighed every sentence: if in all his works, from _Sartor_ to
the _Reminiscences_, you pencil-mark the most suggestive passages you
disfigure the whole book. His opinions will continue to be tossed to and
fro; but as an artist he continually grows. He was, let us grant, though
a powerful, a one-sided historian, a twisted though in some aspects a
great moralist; but he was, in every sense, a mighty painter, now dipping
his pencil "in the gloom of earthquake and eclipse," now etching his
scenes with the tender touch of a Millet.

Emerson, in one of his early letters to Carlyle, wrote, "Nothing seems
hid from those wonderful eyes of yours; those devouring eyes; those
thirsty eyes; those portrait-eating, portrait-painting eyes of thine."
Men of genius, whether expressing themselves in prose or verse, on canvas
or in harmony, are, save when smitten, like Beethoven, by some malignity
of Nature, endowed with keener physical senses than other men. They
actually, not metaphorically, see more and hear more than their fellows.
Carlyle's super-sensitive ear was to him, through life, mainly a torment;
but the intensity of his vision was that of a born artist, and to' it we
owe the finest descriptive passages, if we except those of Mr. Ruskin, in
English prose. None of our poets, from Chaucer and Dunbar to Burns and
Tennyson, has been more alive to the influences of external nature. His
early letters abound in passages like the following, on the view from
Arthur's Seat:--

The blue, majestic, everlasting ocean, with the Fife hills
swelling gradually into the Grampians behind; rough crags
and rude precipices at our feet (where not a hillock rears
its head unsung) with Edinburgh at their base clustering
proudly over her rugged foundations and covering with a
vapoury mantle the jagged black masses of stonework that
stretch far and wide, and show like a city of Faeryland....
I saw it all last evening when the sun was going down, and
the moon's fine crescent, like a pretty silver creature as
it is, was riding quietly above me.

Compare with this the picture, in a letter to Sterling, of Middlebie
burn, "leaping into its cauldron, singing a song better than Pasta's"; or
that of the Scaur Water, that may be compared with Tennyson's verses in
the valley of Cauteretz; or the sketches of the Flemish cities in the
tour of 1842, with the photograph of the lace-girl, recalling Sterne at
his purest; or the account of the "atmosphere like silk" over the moor,
with the phrase, "it was as if Pan slept"; or the few lines written at
Thurso, where "the sea is always one's friend"; or the later memories of
Mentone, old and new, in the _Reminiscences_ (vol. ii. pp. 335-340).

The most striking of those descriptions are, however, those in which the
interests of some thrilling event or crisis of human life or history
steal upon the scene, and give it a further meaning, as in the dim streak
of dawn rising over St. Abb's Head on the morning of Dunbar, or in the
following famous apostrophe:--

O evening sun of July, how at this hour thy beams fall slant
on reapers amid peaceful, woody fields; on old women
spinning in cottages; on ships far out in the silent main;
on balls at the Orangerie at Versailles, where high-rouged
dames of the palace are even now dancing with
double-jacketed Hussar officers;--and also on this roaring
Hell-porch of an Hôtel-de-Ville.

Carlyle is, here and there, led astray by the love of contrast; but not
even Heinrich Heine has employed antithesis with more effect than in the
familiar passage on the sleeping city in _Sartor_, beginning, "Ach mein
Lieber ... it is a true sublimity to dwell here," and ending, "But I,
mein Werther, sit above it all. I am alone with the stars." His thought,
seldom quite original, is often a resuscitation or survival, and owes
much of its celebrity to its splendid brocade. _Sartor Resartus_ itself
escaped the failure that was at first threatened by its eccentricity
partly from its noble passion, partly because of the truth of the
"clothes philosophy," applied to literature as to life.

His descriptions, too often caricatures, of men are equally vivid. They
set the whole great mass of _Friedrich_ in a glow; they lighten the
tedium of _Cromwell's_ lumbering despatches; they give a heart of fire
to _The French Revolution_. Dickens's _Tale of Two Cities_ attempts
and fulfils on a smaller what Carlyle achieved on a greater scale. The
historian makes us sympathise with the real actors, even more than the
novelist does with the imaginary characters on the same stage. From the
account of the dying Louis XV. to the "whiff of grapeshot" which closed
the last scene of the great drama, there is not a dull page. Théroigne
de Méricourt, Marat, Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Mirabeau, Robespierre,
Talleyrand, Mdme. Roland, above all Marie Antoinette--for whom Carlyle
has a strong affection--and Buonaparte, so kindle and colour the scene
that we cannot pause to feel weary of the phrases with which they are
labelled. The author's letters show the same power of baptizing, which he
used often to unfair excess. We can no more forget Count d'Orsay as the
"Phoebus Apollo of Dandyism," Daniel Webster's "brows like cliffs and
huge black eyes," or Wordsworth "munching raisins" and recognising no
poet but himself, or Maurice "attacked by a paroxysm of mental cramp,"
than we can dismiss from our memories "The Glass Coachman" or "The
Tobacco Parliament."

Carlyle quotes a saying of Richter, that Luther's words were half
battles; he himself compares those of Burns to cannon-balls; much of his
own writing is a fusilade. All three were vehement in abuse of things
and persons they did not like; abuse that might seem reckless, if not
sometimes coarse, were it not redeemed, as the rogueries of Falstaff are,
by strains of humour. The most Protean quality of Carlyle's genius is his
humour: now lighting up the crevices of some quaint fancy, now shining
over his serious thought like sunshine over the sea, it is at its best as
finely quaint as that of Cervantes, more humane than Swift's. There is in
it, as in all the highest humour, a sense of apparent contrast, even of
contradiction, in life, of matter for laughter in sorrow and tears in
joy. He seems to check himself, and as if afraid of wearing his heart
in his sleeve, throws in absurd illustrations of serious propositions,
partly to show their universal range, partly in obedience to an instinct
of reserve, to escape the reproach of sermonising and to cut the story
short. Carlyle's grotesque is a mode of his golden silence, a sort of
Socratic irony, in the indulgence of which he laughs at his readers and
at himself. It appears now in the form of transparent satire, ridicule of
his own and other ages, now in droll reference or mock heroic detail,
in an odd conception, a character sketch, an event in parody, in an
antithesis or simile,--sometimes it lurks in a word, and again in a
sentence. In direct pathos--the other side of humour--he is equally
effective. His denunciations of sentiment remind us of Plato attacking
the poets, for he is at heart the most emotional of writers, the greatest
of the prose poets of England; and his dramatic sympathy extends alike to
the actors in real events and to his ideal creations. Few more pathetic
passages occur in literature than his "stories of the deaths of kings."
The following among the less known of his eloquent passages is an
apotheosis of their burials:--

In this manner did the men of the Eastern Counties take up
the slain body of their Edmund, where it lay cast forth in
the village of Hoxne; seek out the severed head and
reverently reunite the same. They embalmed him with myrrh
and sweet spices, with love, pity, and all high and awful
thoughts; consecrating him with a very storm of melodious,
adoring admiration, and sun-dried showers of tears; joyfully,
yet with awe (as all deep joy has something of the awful in
it), commemorating his noble deeds and godlike walk and
conversation while on Earth. Till, at length, the very Pope
and Cardinals at Rome were forced to hear of it; and they,
summing up as correctly as they well could, with _Advocatus
Diaboli_ pleadings and other forms of process, the
general verdict of mankind, declared that he had in very
fact led a hero's life in this world: and, being now gone,
was gone, as they conceived, to God above and reaping his
reward there. Such, they said, was the best judgment they
could form of the case, and truly not a bad judgment.

Carlyle's reverence for the past makes him even more apt to be touched by
its sorrows than amused by its follies. With a sense of brotherhood he
holds out hands to all that were weary; he feels even for the pedlars
climbing the Hohenzollern valley, and pities the solitude of soul on the
frozen Schreckhorn of power, whether in a dictator of Paraguay or in
a Prussian prince. He leads us to the death chamber of Louis XV., of
Mirabeau, of Cromwell, of Sterling, his own lost friend; and we feel with
him in the presence of a solemnising mystery. Constantly, amid the din of
arms or words, and the sarcasms by which he satirises and contemns old
follies and idle strifes, a gentler feeling wells up in his pages like
the sound of the Angelus. Such pauses of pathos are the records of real
or fanciful situations, as of Teufelsdröckh "left alone with the night"
when Blumine and Herr Towgood ride down the valley; of Oliver recalling
the old days at St. Ives; of the Electress Louisa bidding adieu to her

At the moment of her death, it is said, when speech had fled, he felt
from her hand, which lay in his, three slight slight pressures--farewell
thrice mutely spoken in that manner, not easily to forget in this world.

There is nothing more pathetic in the range of his works, if in that of
our literature, than the account of the relations of father and son in
the domestic history of the Prussian Court, from the first estrangement
between them--the young Friedrich in his prison at Cüstrin, the old
Friedrich gliding about seeking shelter from ghosts, mourning for
Absalom--to the reconciliation, the end, and the afterthoughts:--

The last breath of Friedrich Wilhelm having fled, Friedrich
hurried to a private room; sat there all in tears; looking
back through the gulfs of the Past, upon such a Father now
rapt away for ever. Sad all and soft in the moonlight of
memory--the lost Loved One all in the right as we now see,
we all in the wrong!--This, it appears, was the Son's fixed
opinion. Sever, years hence here is how Friedrich concludes
the _History_ of his Father, written with a loyal
admiration throughout: "We have left under silence the
domestic chagrins of this great Prince; readers must have
some indulgence for the faults of the children, in
consideration of the virtues of such a Father." All in
tears he sits at present, meditating these sad things. In a
little while the Old Dessauer, about to leave for Dessau,
ventures in to the Crown Prince, Crown Prince no longer;
"embraces his knees," offers weeping his condolence, his
congratulation; hopes withal that his sons and he will be
continued in their old posts, and that he the Old Dessauer
"will have the same authority as in the late reign."
Friedrich's eyes, at this last clause, flash out tearless,
strangely Olympian. "In your posts I have no thought of
making change; in your posts yes; and as to authority I
know of none there can be but what resides in the king that
is sovereign," which, as it were, struck the breath out of
the Old Dessauer; and sent him home with a painful
miscellany of feelings, astonishment not wanting among them.
At an after hour the same night Friedrich went to Berlin,
met by acclamation enough. He slept there not without
tumult of dreams, one may fancy; and on awakening next
morning the first sound he heard was that of the regiment
Glasenap under his windows, swearing fealty to the new King.
He sprang out of bed in a tempest of emotion; bustled
distractedly to and fro, wildly weeping. Pöllnitz, who came
into the anteroom, found him in this state, "half-dressed,
with dishevelled hair, in tears, and as if beside himself."
"These huzzahings only tell me what I have lost," said the
new King. "He was in great suffering," suggested Pöllnitz;
"he is now at rest." True, he suffered; but he was here with
us; and now----!

Carlyle has said of Dante's _Francesco_ "that it is a thing woven as of
rainbows on a ground of eternal black." The phrase, well applied to the
_Inferno_, is a perhaps half-conscious verdict on his own tenderness as
exhibited in his life and in his works.



One of the subtlest of Robert Browning's critics, in the opening sentence
of his work, quotes a saying of Hegel's, "A great man condemns the world
to the task of explaining him"; adding, "The condemnation is a double one,
and it generally falls heaviest on the great man himself who has to submit
to explanation." Cousin, the graceful Eclectic, is reported to have said
to the great Philosopher, "will you oblige me by stating the results of
your teaching in a few sentences?" and to have received the reply, "It is
not easy, especially in French."

[Footnote: _Browning as a Philosophical and Religious Teacher,_ by
Professor Henry Jones, of St. Andrews.]

The retort applies, with severity, to those who attempt to systematise
Carlyle; for he himself was, as we have seen, intolerant of system. His
mathematical attainment and his antipathy to logical methods beyond
the lines of square and circle, his love of concise fact and his often
sweeping assertions are characteristic of the same contradictions in
his nature as his almost tyrannical premises and his practically
tender-hearted conclusions. A hard thinker, he was never a close
reasoner; in all that relates to human affairs he relies on nobility of
feeling rather than on continuity of thought. Claiming the full latitude
of the prophet to warn, exhort, even to command, he declines either to
preach or to accept the rubric of the partisan or of the priest.

In praise of German literature, he remarks, "One of its chief qualities
is that it has no particular theory at all on the front of it;" and of
its leaders, "I can only speak of the revelations these men have made to
me. As to their doctrines, there is nothing definite or precise to be
said"; yet he asserts that Goethe, Richter, and the rest, took him "out
of the blackness and darkness of death." This is nearly the feeling that
his disciples of forty years ago entertained towards himself; but their
discipleship has rarely lasted through life. They came to his writings,
inspired by the youthful enthusiasm that carries with it a vein of
credulity, intoxicated by their fervour as by new wine or mountain air,
and found in them the key of the perennial riddle and the solution of the
insoluble mystery. But in later years the curtain to many of them became
the picture.

When Carlyle was first recognised in London as a rising author, curiosity
was rife as to his "opinions"; was he a Chartist at heart or an
Absolutist, a Calvinist like Knox, a Deist like Hume, a Feudalist with
Scott, or a Democrat with Burns--inquisitions mostly vain. He had come
from the Scotch moors and his German studies, a strange element, into the
midst of an almost foreign society, not so much to promulgate a new set
of opinions as to infuse a new life into those already existing. He
claimed to have a "mission," but it was less to controvert any form of
creed than to denounce the insufficiency of shallow modes of belief. He
raised the tone of literature by referring to higher standards than those
currently accepted; he tried to elevate men's minds to the contemplation
of something better than themselves, and impress upon them the vacuity
of lip-services; he insisted that the matter of most consequence was the
grip with which they held their convictions and their willingness to
sacrifice the interests on which they could lay their hands, in loyalty
to some nobler faith. He taught that beliefs by hearsay are not only
barren but obstructive; that it is only

When half-gods go, the gods arrive.

But his manner of reading these important lessons admitted the retort
that he himself was content rather to dwell on what is _not_ than to
discover what _is_ true. Belief, he reiterates, is the cure for all the
worst of human ills; but belief in what or in whom? In "the eternities
and immensities," as an answer, requires definition. It means that we are
not entitled to regard ourselves as the centres of the universe; that
we are but atoms of space and time, with relations infinite beyond our
personalities; that the first step to a real recognition of our duties is
the sense of our inferiority to those above us, our realisation of the
continuity of history and life, our faith and acquiescence in some
universal law. This truth, often set forth

By saint, by sage, by preacher, and by poet,

no one has enforced with more eloquence than Carlyle; but though he
founded a dynasty of ideas, they are comparatively few; like a group of
strolling players, each with a well-filled wardrobe, and ready for many

The difficulty of defining Carlyle results not merely from his frequent
golden nebulosity, but from his love of contradicting even himself. Dr.
Johnson confessed to Boswell that when arguing in his dreams he was often
worsted and took credit for the resignation with which he bore these
defeats, forgetting that the victor and the vanquished were one and the
same. Similarly his successor took liberties with himself which he would
allow to no one else, and in doing so he has taken liberties with his
reader. His praise and blame of the profession of letters, as the highest
priesthood and the meanest trade; his early exaltation of "the writers of
newspapers, pamphlets, books," as "the real effective working church of a
modern country"; and his later expressed contempt for journalism as
"mean and demoralising"--"we must destroy the faith in newspapers";
his alternate faith and unfaith in Individualism; the teaching of the
_Characteristics_ and the _Signs of the Times_ that all healthy genius is
unconscious, and the censure of Sir Walter Scott for troubling himself
too little with mysteries; his commendation of "the strong warrior" for
writing no books, and his taking sides with the mediæval monks against
the kings--there is no reconciliation of such contradictories. They are
the expression of diverse moods and emphatically of different stages of
mental progress, the later, as a rule, more negative than the earlier.

This change is most marked in the sphere of politics. At the close of his
student days Carlyle was to all intents a Radical, and believed in
Democracy; he saw hungry masses around him, and, justly attributing some
of their suffering to misgovernment, vented his sympathetic zeal for the
oppressed in denunciation of the oppressors.

[Footnote: Passage quoted (Chap. II.) about the Glasgow Radical rising in

He began not only by sympathising with the people, but by believing in
their capacity to manage best their own affairs: a belief that steadily
waned as he grew older until he denied to them even the right to choose
their rulers. As late, however, as 1830, he argued against Irving's
conservatism in terms recalled in the _Reminiscences_. "He objected
clearly to my Reform Bill notions, found Democracy a thing forbidden,
leading even to outer darkness: I a thing inevitable and obliged to lead
whithersoever it could." During the same period he clenched his theory by
taking a definite side in the controversy of the age. "This," he writes to
Macvey Napier, "this is the day when the lords are to reject the Reform
Bill. The poor lords can only accelerate (by perhaps a century) their own
otherwise inevitable enough abolition."

The political part of _Sartor Resartus_, shadowing forth some scheme of
well-organised socialism, yet anticipates, especially in the chapter on
_Organic Filaments_, the writer's later strain of belief in dukes, earls,
and marshals of men: but this work, religious, ethical, and idyllic,
contains mere vague suggestions in the sphere of practical life. About
this time Carlyle writes of liberty: "What art thou to the valiant and
the brave when thou art thus to the weak and timid, dearer than life,
stronger than death, higher than purest love?" and agrees with the
verdict, "The slow poison of despotism is worse than the convulsive
struggles of anarchy." But he soon passed from the mood represented
by Emily Brontë to that of the famous apostrophe of Madame Roland. He
proclaimed that liberty to do as we like is a fatal license, that the
only true liberty is that of doing what is right, which he interprets
living under the laws enacted by the wise. Mrs. Austin in 1832 wrote to
Mrs. Carlyle, "I am that monster made up of all the Whigs hate--a Radical
and an Absolutist." The expression, at the time, accurately defined
Carlyle's own political position: but he shifted from it, till the
Absolutist, in a spirit made of various elements, devoured the Radical.
The leading counsel against the aristocracy changed his brief and became
chief advocate on their side, declaring "we must recognise the hereditary
principle if there is to be any fixity in things." In 1835, he says to

I believe literature to be as good as dead ... and nothing
but hungry Revolt and Radicalism appointed us for perhaps
three generations.... I suffer also terribly from the
solitary existence I have all along had; it is becoming a
kind of passion with me to feel myself among my brothers.
And then How? Alas I care not a doit for Radicalism, nay, I
feel it to be a wretched necessity unfit for me;
Conservatism being not unfit only but false for me: yet
these two are the grand categories under which all English
spiritual activity, that so much as thinks remuneration
possible, must range itself.

And somewhat later--

People accuse me, not of being an incendiary Sansculotte,
but of being a Tory, thank Heaven!

Some one has written with a big brush, "He who is not a radical in his
youth is a knave, he who is not a conservative in his age is a fool." The
rough, if not rude, generalisation has been plausibly supported by
the changes in the mental careers of Burke, Coleridge, Southey, and
Wordsworth. But Carlyle was "a spirit of another sort," of more mixed
yarn; and, as there is a vein of Conservatism in his early Radicalism,
so there is, as also in the cases of Landor and even of Goethe, still
a revolutionary streak in his later Conservatism. Consequently, in his
instance, there is a plea in favour of the prepossession (especially
strong in Scotland) which leads the political or religious party that a
distinguished man has left still to persist in claiming him; while
that which he has joined accepts him, if at all, with distrust. Scotch


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