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Thomas Carlyle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Photograph by Elliott & Fry, c. 1865
Photograph by Elliott & Fry, c. 1865
signature written in ink in a flowing script

Thomas Carlyle (4 December 1795 – 5 February 1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian and philosopher. Known as the Sage of Chelsea, he became "the undoubted head of English letters" in the 19th century.[1][2]

The son of a stonemason, Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, where he attended the village school, Annan Academy, and finally the University of Edinburgh. Graduating with distinction in 1813, he prepared to become a minister in the United Secession Church while working as a schoolmaster, first in Annan and then in Kirkcaldy, teaching mathematics. He eventually lost his religious faith, abandoned the ministry, and resigned from his post in 1818, briefly enrolling as a law student before working as a tutor. In 1819, during a bleak period of his life, Carlyle's discovery of German literature rekindled his belief in God and provided the catalyst for much of his early literary career as an essayist and translator. His first major work, a novel entitled Sartor Resartus (1831) inspired by his own experience, went largely unnoticed. After relocating to London, he wrote The French Revolution: A History (1837) and became prominent. Each of his subsequent works, from On Heroes, Hero-Worship, & the Heroic in History (1841) to History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great (1858–1865) and beyond, were read widely throughout Europe and North America.

Carlyle's works amount to thirty volumes, most of which are in the genres of history and the critical essay. His distinctive style, called Carlylese, is rich in vocabulary, humour and allusion; his writing has been described as proto-postmodern.[3] His early essays and translations almost single-handedly introduced German Romanticism to the English-speaking world. His histories drew lessons from the past in order to impart wisdom on the present, using contrast to raise questions and provide answers. He championed the Captain of Industry and such figures as Oliver Cromwell and Frederick the Great, writing that "The History of the world is but the Biography of great men."[4][5] He was a staunch critic of democracy, utilitarianism and laissez-faire, referring to economics as "the dismal science".[6]

Immensely influential, Carlyle has often been hailed as a prophet. He occupied a central position in Victorian intellectual life, shaping such areas of thought as Romanticism,[7][8] transcendentalism[9] and medievalism;[10] political movements such as socialism, Irish rebellion and Southern secession; and artistic currents such as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, aestheticism and the Arts and Crafts movement. His reputation declined in the 20th century as some of his views became increasingly unfashionable, particularly his Germanophilia in the aftermaths of World War I and World War II especially, when he came to be perceived as a progenitor of fascism. Since the 1960s, the field of Carlyle Studies has served to improve his standing, with the publication of numerous monographs, academic journals, and critical editions of his work.

Life and work

Birth to Leith Walk experience (1795–1820)

Thomas Carlyle's birthplace, 2014
Thomas Carlyle's birthplace, 2014
Margaret Aitken Carlyle
Margaret Aitken Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle was born on 4 December 1795 to James (1758–1832) and Margaret Aitken Carlyle (1771–1853) in the village of Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire in southwest Scotland. His parents were members of the Burgher secession Presbyterian church.[11] James Carlyle was a stonemason, later a farmer, who built the Arched House wherein his son was born. His maxim was: "That man was created to work, not to speculate, or feel, or dream."[12] As a result of his disordered upbringing, James Carlyle became deeply religious in his youth, reading many books of sermons and doctrinal arguments throughout his life. He married his first wife in 1791, distant cousin Janet, who gave birth to John Carlyle and then died. He married Margaret Aitken in 1795, a poor farmer's daughter then working as a servant. They had nine children, of whom Thomas was the eldest. At an early age, Carlyle's father taught him arithmetic while his mother taught him to read, despite being barely literate.[13] Margaret was pious and devout and hoped that Thomas would become a minister. She was close to her eldest son, being a "smoking companion, counselor and confidante" in Carlyle's early days. She suffered a manic episode when Carlyle was a teenager, in which she became "elated, disinhibited, over-talkative and violent."[14] She suffered another breakdown in 1817, which required her to be removed from her home and restrained.[15] Carlyle's character was strongly molded by them; he wrote, "I . . . trace deeply in myself the character of both parents".[16]

Carlyle was early recognized by his family for his learning and seemed destined for a career in the Church. He received an early education in Ecclefechan's village schools, where he learned French, Latin, and Greek (by the end of his life, he also knew Italian, Spanish, and Danish).[17] From 1806 to 1809 he attended Annan Academy, where he distinguished himself in studies and debate while being badly bullied by his fellow students, eventually learning to fight back. In November 1809 at nearly fourteen years of age, Carlyle walked one hundred miles in order to attend the University of Edinburgh, where he prepared for the ministry, studying mathematics with John Leslie, science with John Playfair and moral philosophy with Thomas Brown.[18] Carlyle gravitated to mathematics and geometry and displayed great talent in those subjects, being credited with the invention of the Carlyle circle. Carlyle worked as a teacher at Annan Academy from 1814 to 1816 and then at Kirkcaldy on the north shore of the Firth of Forth. At Kirkcaldy he made friends with Edward Irving, whose ex-pupil Margaret Gordon became Carlyle's "first love" and the likely inspiration for Blumine of Sartor Resartus.

Carlyle's reading exposed him to Enlightenment philosophy, the French Encyclopédistes, and Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, of which he said, "I read Gibbon, and then first clearly saw that Christianity was not true."[19] Carlyle renounced the ministry as a career prospect in 1817 to the dismay of his parents, who nevertheless respected his decision, and resigned from his position at Kirkcaldy in 1818. He briefly enrolled as a law student before quitting and taking pupils for income. During this time, Carlyle began to suffer from dyspepsia (which remained with him throughout much of his life), and the loss of his traditional faith and his lack of personal direction sunk him into despair.[20] In his voracious reading, he discovered the great writers of modern Germany, and he began to study German in 1819, rapidly acquiring a working knowledge of the language with which to immerse himself in the work of Friedrich Schiller, Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, and especially Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This led him to a profound religious experience that occurred one summer day on Leith Walk, where he forsake atheism and realized the interconnectedness of all things; he would dramatize this event in Sartor. He began contributing to the Edinburgh Encyclopædia in 1820, marking the beginning of his literary career.

German writings to Sartor Resartus (1821–1834)

Jane Baillie Welsh by Kenneth Macleay, 1826, shortly before marriage
Jane Baillie Welsh by Kenneth Macleay, 1826, shortly before marriage

Carlyle began courting Jane Baillie Welsh in 1821 after he was introduced by Irving, who had been her tutor as well as a romantic interest.[20] Carlyle's poverty and peasant background were issues for Jane's middle-class family, yet he persisted. Meanwhile, Carlyle developed his writing slowly, publishing minor reviews of Joanna Baillie's Metrical Legends (1821) and Goethe's Faust (1822) in addition to an uncredited translation of Adrien Marie Legendre's Elements of Geometry (written 1822, published 1824). Prefixed to the Legendre translation was an essay on Proportion written by Carlyle, which Augustus De Morgan later called "as good a substitute for the fifth Book of Euclid as could have been given in that space".[21] From January to July 1822, Carlyle tutored Charles Buller and his brother, Arthur William Buller, working for the family until July 1824.

Carlyle's personal literary breakthrough came when he began his work as a champion of German literature. His translation of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1824) and Travels (1825) and his biography of Schiller (1825) brought him a decent income, which had before then eluded him, and he garnered a modest reputation. Carlyle began corresponding with Goethe and made his first trip to London in 1824, meeting with prominent writers such as Thomas Campbell, Charles Lamb, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and gaining friendships with Anna Montagu, Bryan Waller Proctor, and Henry Crabb Robinson. From May 1825 to May 1826 the Carlyle family resided in Hoddam Hill near Ecclefechan, where Carlyle wrote German Romance (1827), a collection of previously untranslated German novellas by Johann Karl August Musäus, Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, Ludwig Tieck, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Jean Paul. Here, he fulfilled the promise of the spiritual episode at Leith Walk. As he described it, it was "The final chaining down, and trampling home, 'for good,' home into their caves forever, of all my Spiritual Dragons, whh [sic] had wrought me such woe and, for a decade past, had made my life black and bitter: this year 1826 saw the end of all that."[22] At the end of his life, he remembered his year there as "one of the quietest on the whole, and perhaps the most triumphantly important of my life."[23] On 17 October 1826, Thomas and Jane Carlyle were married at the Welsh family farm in Templand.

Shortly after their marriage, the Carlyles moved into a modest home on Comely Bank, Edinburgh, that had been leased for them by Jane's mother. They lived there from October 1826 to May 1828. In that time, Carlyle published German Romance, began an autobiographical novel, Wotton Reinfred (which he never completed) and published his first article for the Edinburgh Review, "Jean Paul Friedrich Richter", the first of many essays extolling the virtues of German authors that were then little-known to English readers. In Edinburgh, Carlyle came into contact with such several distinguished literary figures, including Edinburgh Review editor Francis Jeffrey, Blackwood's Magazine luminary John Wilson, essayist Thomas De Quincey, and philosopher William Hamilton.[20] In 1827 Carlyle attempted to land the Chair of Moral Philosophy at St. Andrews without success, despite support from an array of prominent intellectuals, including Goethe.[24] He again attempted a professorship at the University of London, to no avail.

Craigenputtock, 2010
Craigenputtock, 2010

In May 1828, the Carlyles moved to the main house of Jane's modest agricultural estate at Craigenputtock in Dumfriesshire, which they occupied until May 1834.[25] He wrote a number of essays in Fraser's Magazine which earned him money and augmented his reputation, including "Burns," "German Playwrights," "Voltaire," "Novalis," and "Jean Paul Richter Again." He began but did not complete a history of German literature, from which he drew material for essays "The Nibelungen Lied," "Early German Literature," and parts of "Historic Survey of German Poetry." He published early thoughts on historical writing in "Thoughts on History." He wrote his first pieces of social criticism, "Signs of the Times" and "Characteristics,"[26] which "attacked industrial, money-oriented, impersonal, and mechanical Britain."[27] In the latter, he laid down his abiding preference for the natural over the artificial: "Thus, as we have an artificial Poetry, and prize only the natural; so likewise we have an artificial Morality, an artificial Wisdom, an artificial Society".[28]

Most notably, he wrote Sartor Resartus (lit.'The Tailor Re-tailored'), his first major work. A thinly veiled parody of a scholarly text, the subject of Sartor is the life and writings of Herr Diogenes Teufelsdröckh and his "philosophy of clothes." Finishing the manuscript in late July 1831, Carlyle began his search for a publisher, leaving for London on 4 August; he found no takers.[29] He made a second visit to London from August 1832 to March 1832, still without success. During this visit he initiated important friendships with poet Leigh Hunt and philosopher John Stuart Mill. Three months after their return from a January to May 1833 stay in Edinburgh, Carlyle was visited at Craigenputtock by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson (and other like-minded Americans) had been deeply affected by his essays and determined to meet Carlyle during the northern terminus of a literary pilgrimage; it was to be the start of a lifelong friendship and a famous correspondence. Carlyle eventually decided to publish Sartor serially in Fraser's, with the installments appearing between November 1833 and August 1834. Despite early recognition from Emerson, Mill and others, it was generally received poorly, if noticed at all.

Cheyne Row to Cromwell (1834–1845)

A Chelsea Interior by Robert Scott Tait, 1857
A Chelsea Interior by Robert Scott Tait, 1857

On 10 June 1834, the Carlyles moved into 5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, which became their home for the remainder of their respective lives. Residence in London wrought a large expansion of Carlyle's social circle. Both he and Jane became acquainted with scores of leading writers, novelists, artists, radicals, men of science, Church of England clergymen, and political figures. One of his most important friendships was with Lord and Lady Ashburton; though Carlyle's warm affection for the latter would eventually strain his marriage, the Ashburtons helped to broaden his social horizons, giving him access to circles of intelligence, political influence, and power.

Soon after moving to Cheyne Row, Carlyle arranged for the publication of a history of the French Revolution and set about researching and writing it shortly thereafter. Having completed the first volume after five months of writing, Carlyle lent the manuscript to Mill, who had been supplying him with materials for his research. On the evening of 6 March 1835, Mill arrived at Carlyle's door. He appeared "unresponsive, pale, the very picture of despair". Mill had come to tell Carlyle that the manuscript was destroyed. It had been left out, and Mill's housemaid took it for wastepaper, leaving only "some four tattered leaves". Carlyle was sympathetic: "I can be angry with no one; for they that were concerned in it have a far deeper sorrow than mine: it is purely the hand of Providence". The next day, Mill offered Carlyle £200, of which he would only accept £100. Carlyle began the volume anew shortly afterwards. Despite an initial struggle, he was not deterred: "Do not pity me; forward me rather as a runner that tho' tripped down, will not lie there, but rise and run again."[30][31] By September, the volume was rewritten.

With the intercession of Emerson, Sartor Resartus was first published in book form in Boston on 9 April 1836, soon selling out its initial run of five hundred copies.[32][33] Carlyle's three-volume history of the French Revolution was completed on 13 January 1837 and sent to the press.[34] In need of further financial security, Carlyle began a series of lectures on German literature in May, delivered extemporaneously in Willis' Rooms. The Spectator reported that the first lecture was given "to a very crowded and yet a select audience of both sexes." Carlyle recalled being "wasted and fretted to a thread, my tongue . . . dry as charcoal: the people were there, I was obliged to stumble in, and start. Ach Gott!"[35] Despite his inexperience as a lecturer and deficiency "in the mere mechanism of oratory," reviews were positive and the series proved profitable for him.[36]

Medallion of Carlyle by Thomas Woolner (1855 version). James Caw said that it recalled Lady Eastlake's description of him: "The head of a thinker, the eye of a lover, and the mouth of a peasant."[37]
Medallion of Carlyle by Thomas Woolner (1855 version). James Caw said that it recalled Lady Eastlake's description of him: "The head of a thinker, the eye of a lover, and the mouth of a peasant."[37]

On 9 May 1837, The French Revolution: A History was officially published. It was a resounding success, establishing Carlyle as a major historian with thorough knowledge of sources and a strong moral voice. At the end of the year, Carlyle reported to Karl August Varnhagen von Ense that his earlier efforts to popularize German literature were beginning to produce results, and expressed his satisfaction. "Deutschland will reclaim her great Colony; we shall become more Deutsch, that is to say more English, at same time."[38] The French Revolution fostered the republication of Sartor Resartus in London in 1838 as well as a collection of his earlier writings in the form of the Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, facilitated in Boston with the aid of Emerson. Carlyle presented his second lecture series from 30 April to 11 June 1838 on the history of literature at the Marylebone Institution in Portman Square. The Examiner reported that at the end of the second lecture, "Mr. Carlyle was heartily greeted with applause."[39] Carlyle felt that they "went on better and better, and grew at last, or threatened to grow, quite a flaming affair."[40] A third series of lectures was given from 1 to 18 May 1839 on the revolutions of modern Europe, which the Examiner reviewed positively, noting after the third lecture that "Mr. Carlyle's audiences appear to increase in number every time."[41] Carlyle wrote to his mother that the lectures were met "with very kind acceptance from people more distinguished than ever; yet still with a feeling that I was far from the right lecturing point yet."[42] In December, Carlyle published Chartism, a pamphlet in which he discussed the movement of the same name and raised the Condition of England question, addressing what he perceived to be the failure of such "utilitarian" measures as the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 to improve the state of the working-class during the Industrial Revolution. From 5 to 22 May, 1840, Carlyle gave his fourth and final set of lectures, which were published in 1841 as On Heroes, Hero-Worship, & the Heroic in History. Carlyle wrote to his brother John on 26 May, "The Lecturing business went of with sufficient éclat; the Course was generally judged, and I rather join therein myself, to be the bad best I have yet given."[43] Later that year, he declined a proposal for a professorship of history at Edinburgh.[44]

Carlyle was the principal founder of the London Library in 1841.[45][46] He had become frustrated by the facilities available at the British Museum Library, where he was often unable to find a seat (obliging him to perch on ladders), where he complained that the enforced close confinement with his fellow readers gave him a "museum headache", where the books were unavailable for loan, and where he found the library's collections of pamphlets and other material relating to the French Revolution and English Civil Wars inadequately catalogued. In particular, he developed an antipathy to the Keeper of Printed Books, Anthony Panizzi (despite the fact that Panizzi had allowed him many privileges not granted to other readers), and criticised him in a footnote to an article published in the Westminster Review as the "respectable Sub-Librarian".[47] Carlyle's eventual solution, with the support of a number of influential friends, was to call for the establishment of a private subscription library from which books could be borrowed.

In Past and Present (1843), Carlyle combined historical writing with trenchant social criticism of contemporary Britain. Drawing from an 1840 republication of Jocelyn de Brakelond's Chronicles of the Abbey of Saint Edmund's Bury from the twelfth century, Carlyle contrasted the structured and dutiful government of Abbot Samson with the aimlessness of the modern parliamentarian Sir Jabesh Windbag, satirizing the secularized English ruling-class. Carlyle denounced the failure of decadent liberalism to adequately remedy the ails of industrial Britain, a secular, materialistic country whose only motive was the "cash nexus." He called for leadership by captains of industry and an "Aristocracy of Talent." The work greatly influenced many of his contemporaries, including John Ruskin, William Morris and other future members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Carlyle declined an offer for professorship from St. Andrews in 1844. Carlyle's next major work, Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches: With Elucidations (1845), did much to revise Cromwell's standing in Britain. Carlyle's portrait of the strong seventeenth-century leader guided by devotion to God highlighted the vanity of nineteenth-century government, showing Cromwell "fighting the forces of anarchy and disorder in a heroic struggle to make the will of God prevail.[48] Financially secure, Carlyle wrote little in the years that immediately followed Cromwell.[49]

Irish journey to Frederick the Great (1846–1865)

Thomas Carlyle by Robert Scott Tait, 25 May 1855
Thomas Carlyle by Robert Scott Tait, 25 May 1855

Carlyle visited Ireland in 1846 with Charles Gavan Duffy as a companion and guide, and wrote a series of brief articles on the Irish question in 1848. "Ireland and the British Chief Governor" attacked Lord John Russell's superficial attempt to remedy the issue by mere extension of the voting franchise; in "Irish Regiments (of the New Æra)", he called for the establishment of organized labor regiments to drain the bogs and clear the land of trees to allow for cultivation; "The Repeal of the Union" argued to preserve England's connection with Ireland.[50] Carlyle wrote an article titled "Ireland and Sir Robert Peel" (signed "C.") published on 14 April 1849 in The Spectator in response to two speeches given by Peel wherein he made many of the same proposals which Carlyle had earlier suggested; he called the speeches "like a prophecy of better things, inexpressibly cheering."[51] He visited Ireland again with Duffy the same year, recording his impressions in his letters and a series of memoranda, published as Reminiscences of My Irish Journey in 1849 after his death; Duffy would publish his own memoir of their travels, Conversations with Carlyle.

Carlyle's travels in Ireland deeply affected his views on society, as did the Revolutions of 1848. While embracing the latter as necessary in order to cleanse society of various forms of anarchy and misgovernment, he denounced their democratic undercurrent and insisted on the need for authoritarian leaders. These events inspired his next two works, "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question" (1849) and Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850). The "Occasional Discourse" was an uncompromising attack on misguided philanthropy, in which he suggested that slavery should never have been abolished, or else replaced with serfdom.[52] Slavery had kept order, he argued, and forced work from people who would otherwise have been lazy and feckless: "West Indian blacks are emancipated and, it appears, refuse to work".[53] The Pamphlets presented a torrent of diatribes against "democracy, parliament, intellectually vacant oratory, debased values, the contemporary worship of sham heroes, sugary philanthropy, and misguided prison reform." These works alienated some of his former liberal allies, including Mill. They also won him many admirers, particularly in the Antebellum South.

The Life of John Sterling (1851) was written as a corrective to Julius Hare's 1848 biography, which overstressed theological issues. In the opinion of Leslie Stephen, "The subject roused Carlyle's tenderest mood, and the Life is one of the most perfect in the language."[49] Carlyle's major work of the 1850s and 1860s was his monumental History ofFrederick the Great (1858–1856). Carlyle had expressed interest in writing a biography of Frederick as early as 1830, in a letter addressed to G. R. Gleig dated 21 May of that year.[54] Carlyle set out to research his life, twice traveling to Germany to survey the topography of battlefields and work through scores of documents. Though he did not always sympathise with his hero, whose less pronounced religious belief and whose taste for the arts and Voltaire he did not share, he endeavoured to depict Frederick as the last true king of the old Europe that the French Revolution had destroyed. The biography recounts Frederick's career, the exertion of his will on his army and country, and the heroic bearing of his responsibility to preserve a nation threatened by invasion from without and struggle from within. Its completion marks the climax of Carlyle's reputation as a dominant figure of his age, the Sage of Chelsea, whose presence inspired pious pilgrimages to Cheyne Row.[55] He was elected Lord Rector of Edinburgh University in 1865, replacing William Ewart Gladstone and beating Benjamin Disraeli by a count of 657 to 310.[56]

Final years (1866–1881)

Caricature of Carlyle by Carlo Pellegrini in Vanity Fair
Caricature of Carlyle by Carlo Pellegrini in Vanity Fair

Carlyle's marriage had long been strained by his friendship with Lady Harriet Ashburton and by his devotion to his labour, particularly on Frederick the Great. Jane had suffered increasing health problems and an accident in October 1863, but Lady Harriet's death in 1857 and the completion of Frederick in 1865 indicated that better days were ahead in the marriage. Carlyle traveled to Edinburgh to deliver his "Inaugural Address" as Rector on 2 April 1866. His joy at the honor bestowed upon him and the warm reception he received in Scotland was abruptly ended by news of Jane Welsh's sudden death in London on 21 April 1866. In mourning, Carlyle began to edit his wife's letters and wrote his reminiscences of Jane and of other figures, like Edward Irving, that were part of their early life together. Upon reading of her dissatisfaction with his inattentiveness, Carlyle experienced deep grief and feelings of guilt.

Commemoration Medal, Front & Back
Commemoration Medal, FrontCommemoration Medal for Thomas Carlyle LACMA 79.4.41 (5 of 5).jpg & Back

His wife's death did not prevent Carlyle from being active in public life, however. Mill, with the support of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and others, organised the Jamaica Committee in order to prosecute governor John Eyre for his repression of the Morant Bay rebellion. In response, Carlyle, with support from Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens and others, lead the Eyre Defense Fund, arguing that Eyre had acted decisively to restore order.[57][58] Carlyle attacked Disraeli's proposed extension of voting privileges in the Second Reform Bill in the essay "Shooting Niagra: And After?" of 1867, in which he "reaffirmed his belief in wise leadership (and wise followership), his disbelief in democracy and his hatred of all workmanship – from brickmaking to diplomacy – that was not genuine".[59] That year, he was the subject of two photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron. In 1868, Carlyle's niece Mary Aitken Carlyle moved into 5 Cheyne Row, attending to him and assisting in the editing of Jane Welsh's letters. On 4 March 1869 he met with Queen Victoria, who later wrote in her journal of "Mr. Carlyle, the historian, a strange-looking eccentric old Scotchman, who holds forth, in a drawling melancholy voice, with a broad Scotch accent, upon Scotland and upon the utter degeneration of everything."[60] He wrote an 11 November 1870 letter to The Times in support of Germany in the Franco-Prussian War, later reprinted as "Latter Stage of the French-German War, 1870–71".

Carlyle's conversation was recorded by a number of friends and visitors, most notably William Allingham. Allingham had met with Carlyle sporadically since 1848, becoming much closer once he settled in London in 1870. Allingham records the following note in his diary: "Mary tells me she said to her Uncle—'People say Mr. Allingham is to be your Boswell,' and he replied, 'Well, let him try it. He's very accurate.'"[61] In 1872–73, he sat for James Abbott McNeill Whistler, which resulted in Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle. In 1874 he accepted the Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste from Otto von Bismarck and declined offers of a state pension and the Grand Cross of Bath from Disraeli. On the occasion of his eightieth birthday in 1875, he was presented with a commemorative medal crafted by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm and an address of admiration signed by 119 of the leading writers, scientists, and public figures of the day.[a] "Early Kings of Norway" (1875), a recounting of historical material from the Icelandic sagas transcribed by Mary at Carlyle's dictation,[62] and an essay on "The Portraits of John Knox" were Carlyle's last writings to be published in his lifetime. In 1877, he sat for John Everett Millais, who produced an unfinished portrait. Carlyle was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1878.[63] In August 1879, Carlyle and Mary were joined at Cheyne Row by Mary's new husband Alexander Carlyle, son of Thomas' brother Alexander and Mary's first cousin.

On 2 February 1881, Carlyle fell into a deep sleep, except for a moment when Mary heard him say to himself, "So this is Death—well. . ."[64] He thereafter lost his speech and died on the morning of 5 February.[65] After Jane Welsh's passing, he expressed hope to be buried beside her at Haddington, though this plan was discarded. By the 1870s, there was discussion regarding a potential offer of internment at Westminster Abbey. Carlyle rejected this, taking issue with the Church of England's burial service as well as the spectacle of the event, saying that "Westminster Abbey would require a general gaol delivery of rogues before any man could be at peace there."[66] Per Carlyle's instructions,[67] his executors declined Dean Stanley's offer of the Abbey, and he was placed in the Churchyard of Ecclefechan with his father and mother, according to old Scottish custom.[68] His private funeral was held on 10 February, attended by family and a few friends, including James Anthony Froude, Moncure Conway, John Tyndall, and William Lecky, as local residents looked on.[69]

Ideas and concepts

Bust of Carlyle in the Hall of Heroes at the Wallace Monument, 1891
Bust of Carlyle in the Hall of Heroes at the Wallace Monument, 1891

As defined in The Nuttall Encyclopædia.[70]

Cash Nexus
The reduction (under capitalism) of all human relationships, but especially relations of production, to monetary exchange.[71]
Clothes
Carlyle's name in "Sartor Resartus" for the guises which the spirit, especially of man, weaves for itself and wears, and by which it both conceals itself in shame and reveals itself in grace.
Conflux of Eternities, The
Carlyle's expressive phrase for time, as in every moment of it a centre in which all the forces to and from eternity meet and unite, so that by no past and no future can we be brought nearer to Eternity than where we at any moment of Time are; the Present Time, the youngest born of Eternity, being the child and heir of all the Past times with their good and evil, and the parent of all the Future. By the import of which (see Matt. xvi. 27), it is accordingly the first and most sacred duty of every successive age, and especially the leaders of it, to know and lay to heart as the only link by which Eternity lays hold of it, and it of Eternity.
Dismal Science
Carlyle's name for the political economy that with self-complacency leaves everything to settle itself by the law of supply and demand, as if that were all the law and the prophets. The name is applied to every science that affects to dispense with the spiritual as a ruling factor in human affairs.
Everlasting No, The
Carlyle's name for the spirit of unbelief in God, especially as it manifested itself in his own, or rather Teufelsdröckh's, warfare against it; the spirit, which, as embodied in the Mephistopheles (q. v.) of Goethe, is for ever denying,—der stets verneint—the reality of the divine in the thoughts, the character, and the life of humanity, and has a malicious pleasure in scoffing at everything high and noble as hollow and void.
Everlasting Yea, The
Carlyle's name for the spirit of faith in God in an express attitude of clear, resolute, steady, and uncompromising antagonism to the Everlasting No, [and] the principle that there is no such thing as faith in God except in such antagonism, no faith except in such antagonism against the spirit opposed to God.
Gigman
Carlyle's name for a man who prides himself on, and pays all respect to, respectability; derived from a definition once given in a court of justice by a witness who, having described a person as respectable, was asked by the judge in the case what he meant by the word; "one that keeps a gig," was the answer.
Hallowed Fire
an expression of Carlyle's in definition of Christianity "at its rise and spread" as sacred, and kindling what was sacred and divine in man's soul, and burning up all that was not.
Immensities, Centre of
an expression of Carlyle's to signify that wherever any one is, he is in touch with the whole universe of being, and is, if he knew it, as near the heart of it there as anywhere else he can be.
Logic Spectacles
Carlyle's name for eyes that can only discern the external relations of things, but not the inner nature of them.
Mights and Rights
the Carlyle doctrine that Rights are nothing till they have realised and established themselves as Mights; they are rights first only then.
Natural Supernaturalism
Carlyle's name in "Sartor" for the supernatural found latent in the natural, and manifesting itself in it, or of the miraculous in the common and everyday course of things; name of a chapter which, says Dr. Stirling, "contains the very first word of a higher philosophy as yet spoken in Great Britain, the very first English word towards the restoration and rehabilitation of the dethroned Upper Powers"; recognition at bottom, as the Hegelian philosophy teaches, and the life of Christ certifies, of the finiting of the infinite in the transitory forms of space and time.
Pig-Philosophy
the name given by Carlyle in his "Latter-Day Pamphlets," in the one on Jesuitism, to the wide-spread philosophy of the time, which regarded the human being as a mere creature of appetite instead of a creature of God endowed with a soul, as having no nobler idea of well-being than the gratification of desire—that his only Heaven, and the reverse of it his Hell.
Plugston of Undershot
Carlyle's name in "Past and Present" for a member or "Master-Worker" of the English mammon-worshipping manufacturing class in rivalry with the aristocracy for the ascendency in the land, who pays his workers his wages and thinks he has done his duty with them in so doing, and is secure in the fortune he has made by that cash-payment gospel of his as all the law and the prophets, called of "Undershot," his mill being driven by a wheel, the working power of which is hidden unheeded by him, to break out some day to the damage of both his mill and him.
Present Time
defined by Carlyle as "the youngest born of Eternity, child and heir of all the past times, with their good and evil, and parent of all the future with new questions and significance", on the right or wrong understanding of which depend the issues of life or death to us all, the sphinx riddle given to all of us to rede as we would live and not die.
Printed Paper
Carlyle's satirical name for the literature of France prior to the Revolution.
Progress of the Species Magazines
Carlyle's name for the literature of the day which does nothing to help the progress in question, but keeps idly boasting of the fact, taking all the credit to itself, like Æseop's fly on the axle of the careening chariot soliloquising, "What a dust I raise!"
Sauerteig
(i.e. leaven), an imaginary authority alive to the "celestial infernal" fermentation that goes on in the world, who has an eye specially to the evil elements at work, and to whose opinion Carlyle frequently appeals in his condemnatory verdict on sublunary things.
Silence, Worship of
Carlyle's name for the sacred respect for restraint in speech till "thought has silently matured itself, ... to hold one's tongue till some meaning lie behind to set it wagging," a doctrine which many misunderstand, almost wilfully, it would seem; silence being to him the very womb out of which all great things are born.
Sincerity
in Carlyle's ethics the one test of all worth in a human being, that he really with his whole soul means what he is saying and doing, and is courageously ready to front time and eternity on the stake.
Stump Orator
one who is ready to take up any question of the day, usually a political one, and harangue upon it from any platform offhand; the class, the whole merely a talking one, form the subject, in a pretty wide reference, of one of Carlyle's scathing "Latter-Day Pamphlets."
Tailors
Carlyle's humorsome name in "Sartor" for the architects of the customs and costumes woven for human wear by society, the inventors of our spiritual toggery, the truly poetic class.
Weissnichtwo (Know-not-where)
in Carlyle's "Sartor," an imaginary European city, viewed as the focus, and as exhibiting the operation, of all the influences for good and evil of the time we live in, described in terms which characterised city life in the first quarter of the 19th century; so universal appeared the spiritual forces at work in society at that time that it was impossible to say where they were and where they were not, and hence the name of the city, Know-not-where.

Carlylese

Carlyle believed that his time required a new approach to writing:

But finally do you reckon this really a time for Purism of Style; or that Style (mere dictionary style) has much to do with the worth or unworth of a Book? I do not: with whole ragged battallions of Scott's-Novel Scotch, with Irish, German, French and even Newspaper Cockney (when "Literature" is little other than a Newspaper) storming in on us, and the whole structure of our Johnsonian English breaking up from its foundations,—revolution there as visible as anywhere else![72]

At the beginning of his literary career, Carlyle worked to develop his own style, cultivating one of intense energy and visualisation, characterized not by "balance, gravity, and composure" but "imbalance, excess, and excitement."[73] Even in his early anonymous periodical essays his writing distinguished him from his contemporaries. Carlyle's writing in Sartor Resartus is described as "a distinctive mixture of exuberant poetic rhapsody, Germanic speculation, and biblical exhortation, which Carlyle used to celebrate the mystery of everyday existence and to depict a universe suffused with creative energy."[74]

Carlyle's approach to historical writing was inspired by a quality that he found in the works of Goethe, Bunyan and Shakespeare: "Everything has form, everything has visual existence; the poet's imagination bodies forth the forms of things unseen, his pen turns them to shape."[75] He rebuked typical, Dryasdust historiography: "Dull Pedantry, conceited idle Dilettantism,—prurient Stupidity in what shape soever,—is darkness and not light!"[76] Rather than reporting events in a detached, distanced manner, he presents immediate, tangible occurrences, often in the present tense.[77] In his French Revolution, "the great prose epic of the nineteenth century," Carlyle managed to craft an overwhelmingly original voice, producing deliberate tension by combining the common language of the time with self-conscious allusions to traditional epics, Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, or some contemporary French history source in nearly every sentence of its three volumes.

Portrait etching of Carlyle by Alphonse Legros

Carlyle's social criticism directs his penchant for metaphor toward the Condition of England question, depicting a thoroughly diseased society. Declaiming the aimlessness and infirmity of English leadership, Carlyle made use of satirical characters like Sir Jabesh Windbag and Bobus of Houndsditch in Past and Present. Memorable catchphrases such as Morrison's Pill, the Gospel of Mammonism, and "Doing as One Likes" were employed to counteract empty platitudes of the day. Carlyle transformed his depicted reality in various ways, whether by conversion of actual human beings into grotesque caricatures, envisioning apparently isolated facts as emblems of morality, or by manifestation of the supernatural; in the Pamphlets, pampered felons appear in nightmarish visions and wrongheaded philanthropists wallow in their own filth.

Carlyle could at once use imaginative powers of rhetoric and vision to "render the familiar unfamiliar". He could also be a sharp-eyed, keen observer of the actual, reproducing scenes with imagistic clarity, as he does in the Reminiscences, the Life of John Sterling and the letters; he has often been called the Victorian Rembrandt.[78][79][80] As Memorial University professor Mark Cumming explains, "Carlyle's intense appreciation of visual existence and of the innate energy of object, coupled with his insistent awareness of language and his daunting verbal resources, formed the immediate and lasting appeal of his style."[81]

Coinages

Carlyle Quotations in the O.E.D.
Type Number Author Rank
Total Quotations[b] 6778 26th
First Quotations[c] 547 45th
First Quotations in a Special Sense[d] 1789 33rd

The table to the right represents data gathered from Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2012 (an explanatory footnote is provided for each "Type").[82]

Over fifty percent of these entries come from Sartor Resartus, French Revolution, and History of Frederick the Great. Of the 547 First Quotations cited by the O.E.D., 87 or 16% are listed as being "in common use today."

Humour

Evident throughout Carlyle's writings is his own sense of humour, for which his appreciation was shaped by early readings of Cervantes, Samuel Butler, Jonathan Swift, and Laurence Sterne, authors from whom he developed a love of humorous characters. He initially attempted a fashionable irony in his writing, drawn from familiar literary magazines such as Blackwood's, Fraser's, and the Edinburgh Review; he soon discarded this approach in favour of a "deeper spirit" of humour. In his essays on Richter, Carlyle rejects the dismissive, ironic humour of Voltaire and Molière, embracing the warm and sympathetic approach of Cervantes and Richter. Carlyle establishes humor in many of his works through his use of characters, such as the Editor (in Sartor Resartus), Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (lit.'God-born Devil's-dung'), Gottfried Sauerteig, Dryasdust, and Smelfungus. Linguistically, he explores the humorous possibilities of his subject through exaggerated and dazzling wordplay, "in sentences abounding with rhetorical devices: emphasis by capitalization, punctuation marks, and italics; allegory, symbol, and other poetic devices; hyphenated words, Germanic translations and etymologies; quotations, self-quotations, and bizarre allusions; and repetitious and antiquated speech."[83]

Allusion

Carlyle's writing is highly allusive. Ruth apRoberts writes that "Thomas Carlyle may well be, of all writers in English, the most thoroughly imbued with the Bible. His language, his imagery, his syntax, his stance, his worldview—are all affected by it."[84] In the Duke-Edinburgh edition of the Collected Letters and in the Strouse edition of Carlyle's works, all of the Old and New Testament books besides the Apocrypha are referenced, with Job, Ecclesiastes, Psalms and Proverbs the most frequent in the Old, and Matthew that in the New.[85] Joseph Sigman has traced in Sartor Resartus a basic biblical pattern, of both Old Testament and New Testament, used typologically.[86] The French Revolution is filled with dozens of Homeric allusions, quotations, and a liberal use of epithets drawn from Homer as well as Homeric epithets of Carlyle's own devising.[87] Carlyle relished Homer's attention to detail, his strongly visual imagination, and his exuberant appreciation of language; John Clubbe argues that the influence of Homer extended beyond The French Revolution to Past and Present and Frederick the Great.[88] The Letters are full of allusions to a wide range of texts by John Milton, including Lycidas, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Comus, Samson Agonistes and, most frequently, Paradise Lost. Carlyle's entire corpus was touched by Miltonic language and imagery, especially The French Revolution.[89] References to William Shakespeare, direct and indirect, abound in his works. The French Revolution contains two dozen allusions to Hamlet alone, and dozens more to Macbeth, Othello, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, the histories, and the comedies.[90]

Reception

Sterling complained in an 1835 letter to Carlyle after reading Sartor of the "positively barbarous" use of words such as "environment," "stertorous," and "visualised," words "without any authority" that are now widely used.[91] William Makepeace Thackeray recorded his mixed response in his review of French Revolution for the Times in 1837, decrying its "Germanisms and Latinisms" while acknowledging that "with perseverance, understanding follows, and things perceived first as faults are seen to be part of his originality, and powerful innovations in English prose."[92]

Henry David Thoreau expressed appreciation in "Thomas Carlyle and His Works":

Indeed, for fluency and skill in the use of the English tongue, he is a master unrivalled. His felicity and power of expression surpass even his special merits as historian and critic. . . . we had not understood the wealth of the language before. . . . He does not go to the dictionary, the wordbook, but to the word-manufactory itself, and has made endless work for the lexicographers . . . it would be well for any who have a lost horse to advertise, or a town-meeting warrant, or a sermon, or a letter to write, to study this universal letter-writer, for he knows more than the grammar or the dictionary.[93]

Oscar Wilde wrote that among the very few masters of English prose, "We have Carlyle, who should not be imitated."[94] Matthew Arnold advised: "Flee Carlylese as you would the devil."[95]

Frederic Harrison deemed Carlyle "the literary dictator of Victorian prose."[96] T. S. Eliot complained that "Carlyle partly originates and partly marks the disturbances in the equilibrium of English prose style", a problem that only disappeared with Ulysses.[97] Indeed, Georg B. Tennyson remarked that "not until Joyce is there a comparable inventiveness in English prose."[73]

Character

Etching of Thomas Carlyle by Howard Helmick, 1881
Etching of Thomas Carlyle by Howard Helmick, 1881

Froude recalled his first impression of Carlyle:

He was then fifty-four years old; tall (about five feet eleven), thin, but at that time upright, with no signs of the later stoop. His body was angular, his face beardless, such as it is represented in Woolner's medallion, which is by far the best likeness of him in the days of his strength.[e] His head was extremely long, with the chin thrust forward; his neck was thin; the mouth firmly closed, the under lip slightly projecting; the hair grizzled and thick and bushy. His eyes, which grew lighter with age, were then of a deep violet, with fire burning at the bottom of them, which flashed out at the least excitement. The face was altogether most striking, most impressive in every way.[98]

Carlyle was renowned for his conversation. Charles Darwin wrote that "to my mind Carlyle is the most worth listening to, of any man I know."[99] Emerson described him as "an immense talker, as extraordinary in his conversation as in his writing,—I think even more so."[100] He saw Carlyle as not mainly a scholar, but "a practical Scotchman, such as you would find in any saddler’s or iron-dealer's shop, and then only accidentally and by a surprising addition, the admirable scholar and writer he is." Thomas Wentworth Higginson remembered Carlyle's laugh, "a broad, honest, human laugh," that "cleared the air like thunder, and left the atmosphere sweet."[101]

Charles Eliot Norton wrote that Carlyle's "essential nature was solitary in its strength, its sincerity, its tenderness, its nobility. He was nearer Dante than any other man."[102] Harrison similarly observed that "Carlyle walked about London like Dante in the streets of Verona, gnawing his own heart and dreaming dreams of Inferno. To both the passers-by might have said, See! there goes the man who has seen hell".[103] Higginson rather felt that Richter's humorous Siebenkäs character "came nearer to the actual Carlyle than most of the grave portraitures yet executed", for, like Siebenkäs, Carlyle was "a satirical improvisatore".[104] Carlyle was recognised on the streets of London by his brown wideawake hat.[105]

Paul Elmer More wrote that Carlyle "stands in Froude's biography a figure unique, isolated, domineering—after Dr. Johnson the greatest personality in English letters, possibly even more imposing than that acknowledged dictator."[106]

Legacy

Influence

George Eliot summarized Carlyle's impact in 1855:

It is an idle question to ask whether his books will be read a century hence: if they were all burnt as the grandest of Suttees on his funeral pile, it would be only like cutting down an oak after its acorns have sown a forest. For there is hardly a superior or active mind of this generation that has not been modified by Carlyle's writings; there has hardly been an English book written for the last ten or twelve years that would not have been different if Carlyle had not lived.[107]

Carlyle's two most important followers were Emerson and Ruskin. In the 19th century, Emerson was often thought of as "the American Carlyle".[108] Emerson sent Carlyle one of his books in 1870 with the inscription, "To the General in Chief from his Lieutenant".[109] In 1854, Ruskin made his first public acknowledgement that Carlyle was the author to whom he "owed more than to any other living writer".[110] After reading Ruskin's Unto This Last (1860), Carlyle felt that they were "a minority of two", a feeling which Ruskin shared.[111][112] From the 1860s onward, Ruskin frequently referred to Carlyle as his "master" and "papa," writing after Carlyle's death that he was "throwing myself now into the mere fulfilment of Carlyle's work."[113]

By 1960, Carlyle was "the single most frequent topic of doctoral dissertations in the field of Victorian literature".[114] While preparing for a study of his own, German scholar Gerhart von Schulze-Gävernitz found himself overwhelmed by the amount of material already written about Carlyle—in 1894.[115]

Literature

"The most explosive impact in English literature during the nineteenth century is unquestionably Thomas Carlyle's", writes Lionel Stevenson. "From about 1840 onward, no author of prose or poetry was immune from his influence."[116]

'Carlyle and Tennyson talked and smoked together.' by J. R. Skelton, 1920. Carlyle on Tennyson: "I do not meet, in these late decades, such company over a pipe!"[117]
'Carlyle and Tennyson talked and smoked together.' by J. R. Skelton, 1920. Carlyle on Tennyson: "I do not meet, in these late decades, such company over a pipe!"[117]

Authors on whom Carlyle's influence was particularly strong include Matthew Arnold,[118] Elizabeth Barrett Browning,[119] Robert Browning,[120] Arthur Hugh Clough,[121] Dickens, Disraeli, George Eliot,[122] Elizabeth Gaskell,[123] Frank Harris,[124] Kingsley, George Henry Lewes,[125] David Masson, George Meredith,[126] Mill, Marcel Proust,[127][128] Ruskin, George Bernard Shaw[129] and Walt Whitman.[130] Germaine Brée has shown the considerable impact that Carlyle had on the thought of André Gide.[131] Carlylean influence can also be seen in the writings of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jorge Luis Borges, the Brontës,[132] Arthur Conan Doyle, E. M. Forster, Ángel Ganivet, Lafcadio Hearn, William Ernest Henley, Marietta Holley, Rudyard Kipling,[133] Selma Lagerlöf, Herman Melville,[134] Edgar Quinet, Samuel Smiles, Tennyson, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope and Miguel de Unamuno.[135]

Carlyle's German essays and translations as well as his own writings were pivotal to the development of the English Bildungsroman.[136] His concept of symbols influenced French literary Symbolism.[137]

Carlyle's influence was also felt in the negative sense. Algernon Charles Swinburne, whose comments on Carlyle throughout his writings range from high praise to scathing critique, once wrote to John Morley that Carlyle was "the illustrious enemy whom we all lament", reflecting a view of Carlyle as a totalizing figure to be rebelled against.[138]

Despite the broad Modernist reaction against the Victorians, the influence of Carlyle has been traced in the writings of T. S. Eliot,[139] James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis.[140]

Philosophy

Carlyle had a foundational influence on American Transcendentalism. Virtually every member followed him with enthusiasm, including Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Orestes Brownson, William Henry Channing, Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Frederic Henry Hedge, Henry James Sr., Thoreau, and George Ripley.[141] James Freeman Clarke wrote that "He did not seem to be giving us a new creed, so much as inspiring us with a new life."[142]

G. K. Chesterton posited that "Out of [Carlyle] flows most of the philosophy of Nietzsche,"[143] a view held by many; the connection has been studied since the late-nineteenth century.[144][145][146][147][148]

Historiography

James Anthony Froude attributed his decision to become an historian to Carlyle's influence.[149] John Mitchel's Life of Aodh O'Neill, Prince of Ulster (1845) has been called "an early incursion of Carlylean thought into the romantic construction of the Irish nation".[150] Wilhelm Dilthey deemed Carlyle "the greatest English writer of the century".[151] Carlyle's histories were also praised by Heinrich von Treitschke,[152] George Peabody Gooch, Pieter Geyl, and Charles Firth.[153] Others were hostile to Carlyle's method, such as Thomas Babington Macaulay, Leopold von Ranke, Lord Acton, Hippolyte Taine and Jules Michelet.[154]

C. V. Wedgwood said, "It is the measure of Carlyle's greatness that, although he did make mistakes, he emerges none the less as one of the great masters."[155] John Philipps Kenyon notes that despite his challenging style, Carlyle's "books are still read, and he has commanded the respect of historians as diverse as James Anthony Froude, G. M. Trevelyan and Hugh Trevor-Roper."[156]

Political and social movements

Never had political progressivism a foe it could more heartily respect.

Walt Whitman, "Carlyle from American Points of View"[157]

Carlyle's influence on modern socialism has been described as "constitutive".[158] He was one of the main "intellectual sources" for Christian socialism.[159] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels cited Carlyle in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844–1845), The Holy Family (1845), and The Communist Manifesto (1848).[160] Alexander Herzen and Vasily Botkin valued Carlyle's writings, the former calling him "a Scotch Proudhon."[161][162] His importance to the British fin de siècle labour movement was acknowledged by major figures such as William Morris, Keir Hardie and Robert Blatchford.[163] Octavia Hill took inspiration from Carlyle, as did Emmeline Pankhurst.[164]

Woodcut of Thomas Carlyle by Robert Bryden, 1901
Woodcut of Thomas Carlyle by Robert Bryden, 1901

Morris Edmund Speare cites Carlyle as "one of the greatest influences" on Disraeli's life.[165] Robert Blake links the two as "romantic, conservative, organic thinkers who revolted against Benthamism and the legacy of eighteenth-century rationalism." Froude, a biographer of both men, observed that Disraeli "had studied Carlyle, and in some of his writings had imitated him."[166]

Carlyle was admired by the Young Ireland movement, despite his opposition to their cause. Duffy wrote that in Carlyle, they found a "very welcome" teacher, who "confirmed their determination to think for themselves", and that his writings were "often a cordial to their hearts in doubt and difficulty".[167]

Carlyle's philosophy was popular in the Antebellum South.[168][169][170] In 1848, The Southern Quarterly Review declared: "The spirit of Thomas Carlyle is abroad in the land."[171] American historian William E. Dodd wrote that Carlyle's "doctrine of social subordination and class distinction . . . was all that Dew and Harper and Calhoun and Hammond desired. The greatest realist in England had weighed their system and found it just and humane."[172] Southern sociologist George Fitzhugh's notions of palingenesis, multi-racial slavery, and authoritarianism were profoundly influenced by Carlyle, as was his prose style.[173][174] Carlyle's attacks on the ills of industrialisation and on classical economics became an important inspiration for U.S. progressives,[175] and his economic statism influenced the elitist and eugenicist concept of "intelligent social engineering" which was promoted in the early days of the progressive American Economic Association.[176]

Leopold Caro credited Carlyle with influencing the social altruism of Henry Ford.[131]

More recently, figures associated with the Nouvelle Droite, the Neoreactionary movement, and the alt-right have claimed Carlyle as an influence on their approach to metapolitics.[177][178][179][180] At a meeting of the New Right in London on 5 July 2008, English artist Jonathan Bowden delivered a lecture in which he said, "All of our great thinkers are shooting arrows into the future. And Carlyle is one of them."[181] In 2010, American blogger Curtis Yarvin labeled himself a Carlylean "the way a Marxist is a Marxist."[182] New Zealand-born writer Kerry Bolton wrote in 2020 that Carlyle's works "could be the ideological basis of a true British Right" and that they "remain as timeless foundations on which the Anglophone Right can return to its actual premises."[183]

Art

Blue China by Max Beerbohm (1922), depicting Whistler and Carlyle
Blue China by Max Beerbohm (1922), depicting Whistler and Carlyle

Carlyle's early critique of industrial practice and political economy was one of the first utterances of what would become the ethos of both the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts movement, and several leading members recognized his importance.[184] John William Mackail, friend and official biographer of William Morris, wrote, that in the years of Morris and Edward Burne-Jones attendance at Oxford, Past and Present stood as "inspired and absolute truth."[185] Morris read a letter from Carlyle at the first public meeting of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.[186] Fiona MacCarthy, a recent biographer, affirmed that Morris was "deeply and lastingly" indebted to Carlyle.[187] William Holman Hunt considered Carlyle to be a mentor of his. Hunt used Carlyle as one of the models for the head of Christ in The Light of the World and showed great concern for Carlyle's portrayal in Ford Madox Brown's painting Work (1865). In his autobiography, Hunt remembered Carlyle as "one of the real greatnesses of England".[188] Carlyle helped Thomas Woolner to find work early in his career and throughout, and the sculptor would become "a kind of surrogate son" to the Carlyles, referring to Carlyle as "the dear old philosopher".[189] Phoebe Anna Traquair depicted Carlyle, one of her favorite writers, in murals painted for the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh.[190] According to Villanova University professor Marylu Hill, the Roycrofters were "very influenced by Carlyle's words about work and the necessity of work", with his name appearing frequently in their writings, which are held at the university.[191]

apRoberts writes that Carlyle "did much to set the stage for the Aesthetic Movement", noting that he introduced the term "Æesthetics" into the English language in his biography of Schiller and in subsequent writings, leading her to declare Carlyle as "the apostle of aesthetics in England, 1825-27."[192] It has been suggested that Carlyle's rhetorical style and his views on art provided the foundation for the aestheticism of Walter Pater, Wilde, and W. B. Yeats.[193]

Reputation

Unfinished portrait of Thomas Carlyle by John Everett Millais, 1877
Unfinished portrait of Thomas Carlyle by John Everett Millais, 1877

Few figures in the history of English literature have been so highly esteemed and then utterly neglected within such a short timespan as Thomas Carlyle. Tennyson has divided the history of his reputation into three chronological stages:

  1. Carlyle's lifetime (to 1881), or The Popular Period
  2. From Carlyle's Death to about 1930, or The Reactionary Period
  3. From 1930 to the Present, or The Scholarly-Critical Period

He also provides a brief overview of these developments:

If we were plotting the whole course of Carlyle's reputation through the three periods on a graph, we would note a generally rising curve in Period I up to a very high peak towards the end of his life, a drastic plunge in Period II to a valley almost as deep as the peak was high, and a cautious rise in Period III to a modest eminence but with perhaps a further rise in prospect.[194]

Carlyle's lifetime (to 1881)

"If one had to settle upon a single word to characterize the Victorian view of Carlyle, that word should be—Teacher", writes Tennyson. This designation is supported by Harriet Martineau's 1849 assessment of Carlyle: "Whether we call him philosopher, poet, or moralist, he is the first teacher of our generation."[195] For Victorian readers, the Teacher could easily become the Philosopher or the Theologian, and many attempted to extract Carlyle's "system" from his writings. Tennyson draws the connection from teacher to prophet and sage, two frequently used nouns when describing Carlyle.

Tennyson considers Froude's biography (1882–1884) as at once "the shining example of the Victorian view of Carlyle" in its reverent adherence to Carlyle's message and the herald of "a new and rather untidy phase of Carlyle's reputation" for its focus on his personal relationships, particularly with his wife.

From Carlyle's Death to about 1930

Once the Teacher, Carlyle has become the Denouncer. In this stage, the "dominant tone" of negativity is "set by what seemed to be Froude's undermining of Carlyle's reputation as a man and thinker." The focus turned away from Carlyle's "teachings" and towards negative aspects of Carlyle's personal life; it became fashionable "denounce the denouncer". Owen Dudley Edwards remarked that in this period, "Carlyle was known more than read".[196] Hilaire Belloc wrote in his 1906 introduction to the Everyman's Library edition of Carlyle's French Revolution that though "His position as a writer is secure," he felt that "we are in a position to look steadily back at the whole historical work of Carlyle and to judge it, as yet, without undue lack of sympathy, but already with sufficient detachment."[197] H. L. Mencken called Carlyle "a god long forgotten" in 1917.[198] As Campbell describes:

The effect of Froude’s work in the years following Carlyle’s death was extraordinary. Almost overnight, it seemed, Carlyle plunged from his position as Sage of Chelsea and Grand Old Victorian to the object of puzzled dislike, or even of revulsion.[199]

Tennyson distinguishes two camps that arose from this state of affairs—the Loyalists, those who knew and admired Carlyle, and the Revisionists, those who supported Froude's "undermining". Among the Loyalists were the "tribe" of German academics that used Carlyle to defend both Prussianism and Nazism; for this reason, Tennyson considers them to be, in fact, revisionists. Large amounts of material were published in response to the provocations of the Revisionists, so, in a sense, their approach "dominat[ed] Carlyle scholarship for many years". Tennyson observes that the affects of Froude's legacy are still felt in the way that Carlyle is read and perceived, as the controversy is more famous than the writings.

Similar to Froude's biography, two publications from this time, Wilson's biography (1923–1934) and Dyer's bibliography (1928), provide the "last gasp" of the Reactionary period in their open Loyalist partiality, while also ushering in a new era in their emphasis on scholarship, accuracy, and facts.

From 1930 to the Present

My Books were not, nor ever will be 'popular,' . . .

Thomas Carlyle, Reminiscences

Whereas the Popular Period pictured Carlyle as Teacher and the Reactionary as Denouncer, the Scholarly-Critical Period imaged him as Influence. In the 1930s, scholarly attention to Carlyle increased, and despite hostilities during and after the Second World War, the general upward trend resumed in the 1950s. For the first time, it was possible "to write about Carlyle without necessarily appearing either as his sycophant or as his grim-eyed detractor." American universities took a leading role, with Tennyson citing the German model of American graduate education and the legacy of Emerson's pioneering Carlylean ambassadorship in America. The "scholarly" centerpiece of this period is the Collected Letters, a correspondence whose sheer volume (50) and timespan of composition (1812–1881) testifies to the enduring importance of Carlyle both as an individual and as a means through which to view his era.

On the "critical" end, there was a new emphasis on the literary and technical aspects of Carlyle's work, inspired by John Holloway's The Victorian Sage (1953) and continued in further studies. The dual approach to Carlyle as Influence and Carlyle as literary genius brought forth a "palingenesis" in Carlyle studies, which would reaffirm Carlyle as pre-eminent among Victorians. Tennyson predicted that a fourth stage would follow: Carlyle as Vates, in whom, as Carlyle spake in "The Hero as Poet", poet and prophet are one.[200]

"Despite the pleas of these critics," Cumming reported in 2004, "Carlyle's status as a great, powerful writer has not been rehabilitated even within the universities, and his name is unlikely ever to have the widespread popular currency of such contemporaries as George Eliot, Charles Dickens, or the Brontës."[201] There are several reasons for this, one of which is Carlyle's resistance to categorization, limiting his applicability and presence in academic curricula. Another is the common association of Carlyle with racism and fascism. Besides these, the difficulty of his prose can be a challenge to modern readers. Subsequent scholarship has tended stress his influence and his place in the history of ideas.

Controversies

Racism and antisemitism

Carlyle was a man of many prejudices. Kenneth J. Fielding writes that "he was often ready to play up to being a caricature of prejudice".[202] Targets for his ire included the French, the Irish, Slavs,[203] Turks, Americans, Catholics, and, most explicitly, blacks and Jews. Duffy recorded Carlyle's response to Duffy's telling him that "he had taught Mitchel to oppose the liberation of the negroes and the emancipation of the Jews."

Mitchel, he said, would be found to be right in the end; the black man could not be emancipated from the laws of nature, which had pronounced a very decided decree on the question, and neither could the Jew.[204]

Carlyle "resembled most of his contemporaries" in his beliefs about Jews, identifying them with capitalist materialism and outmoded religious orthodoxy.[205][206] He wished that the English would throw off their "Hebrew Old-Clothes" and abandon the Hebraic element in Christianity, or Christianity altogether.[207] Carlyle once wrote that he had considered writing a book to be called Exodus from Houndsditch,[f] "a pealing off of fetid Jewhood in every sense from myself and my poor bewildered brethren".[208] Froude described Carlyle's aversion to the Jews as "Teutonic". He felt they had contributed nothing to the "wealth" of mankind, comparing "the Jews with their morbid imaginations and foolish sheepskin Targums" to "The Norse with their steel swords guided by fresh valiant hearts and clear veracious understanding".[209][210] Carlyle refused an invitation by Baron Rothschild in 1848 to support a Bill in Parliament to allow voting rights for Jews in the United Kingdom, asking Richard Monckton Milnes in a correspondence how a Jew could "try to be Senator, or even Citizen, of any Country, except his own wretched Palestine," and expressed his hope that they would "arrive" in Palestine "as soon as possible".[211]

Henry Crabb Robinson heard Carlyle at dinner in 1837 speak approvingly of slavery. "It is a natural aristocracy, that of colour, and quite right that the stronger and better race should have dominion!"[212] The 1853 pamphlet "Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question" expressed concern for the excesses of the practice, considering "How to abolish the abuses of slavery, and save the precious thing in it."[213]

Nazi appropriation

After Adolf Hitler's rise to power, many Germans saw Carlyle as den ersten englischen Nationalsozialisten (the first English National Socialist). German academics viewed Carlyle as having been immersed in and an outgrowth of German culture, just as National Socialism was. They believed that Carlyle was a Geist von unserem Geist (spirit from our spirit), as one scholar wrote: "Carlyle's ethos is the ethos of the Nordic soul par excellence." Even anti-Nazi Egon Friedell echoed Paul Hensel's assertion that Carlyle's Volkscharakter (Folk character) had preserved "the peculiarity of the Low German tribe." Another scholar proposed that "Carlyle established, in fact, the mission of the Führer historically and philosophically. He fights, himself a Führer, vigorously against the masses, he . . . becomes a pathfinder for new thoughts and forms."

While some were eager to claim Carlyle for the Reich, others were more aware of incompatibilities, noting that Carlyle's philosophical foundation of "a personally shaped religious idea" was profoundly different from the National Socialist foundation of the Völkisch movement. Ernst Cassirer rejected the notion of Carlyle as proto-fascist, emphasizing the moral underpinning of his thought. Tennyson has also commented that Carlyle's anti-modernist stance disqualifies him from association with modern totalitarianism.[214]

Joseph Goebbels admired Carlyle's history of Frederick the Great and frequently sought consolation from it in 1945. Goebbels read passages from the book to Hitler during his last days in the Führerbunker.[215]

In literature

This section lists parodies of and references to Carlyle in literature.[216][217][218][219]

  • William Maginn parodied Carlyle in the "Gallery of Literary Characters" Number 37, appearing in Fraser's Magazine for June 1833.
    Portrait of Carlyle by Alfred Croquis (Daniel Maclise) for the Fraser's "Gallery"
    Portrait of Carlyle by Alfred Croquis (Daniel Maclise) for the Fraser's "Gallery"
  • In January 1838 Disraeli published a series of political letters in the Times under the heading of Old England and signed Couer de Lion, which imitated Carlyle's style.
  • Carlyle is cast as Collins in "The Onyx Ring," a tale by John Sterling which first appeared in Blackwood's Magazine in 1843.[220]
  • James Russell Lowell's The Biglow Papers of 1848 features a "notice" from the fictitious World-Harmonic-Æolian-Attachment in parody of Carlyle.
  • Charles Kingsley introduced Carlylean characters in Yeast, A Novel (1848) and Alton Locke: Tailor and Poet, An Autobiography (1850).
  • Fraser's again parodied Carlyle in November 1849, this time by Charles Henry Waring.
  • Carlyle received two parodic treatments in Punch shortly after the publication of the Pamphlets in 1850.
  • Anthony Trollope parodied Carlyle in chapter 15 of The Warden (1855) in the figure of Dr. Pessimist Anticant.
  • In book 5 of Barret Browning's Aurora Leigh (1856), she writes, "Ay, but every age / Appears to souls who live in't (ask Carlyle) / Most unheroic".[119]
  • Scottish author and businessman Patrick Proctor Alexander published "An Occasional Discourse on Sauerteig" (1859), attributed to Smelfungus.
  • David Atwood Wasson parodied Carlyle in 1863 in a "strongly critical rejoinder" to "Ilias (Americana) in Nuce".
  • Harrison wrote "A New Lecture on Hero-Worship" in 1867, attacking Carlyle's support of Governor Eyre.
  • Meredith wrote a sonnet "To Carlyle" for his eightieth birthday in 1875.[126]
  • Carlyle figures in Meredith's Beauchamp's Career (1876) as Dr. Shrapnel.
  • James D. Merritt suggests that Carlyle be considered as the original of St. Barbe in Disraeli's Endymion (1880).[221]
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote the sonnets "On the Deaths of Thomas Carlyle and George Eliot" and "After Looking into Carlyle's Reminiscences" (1882).[222]
  • Montgomery Schuyler composed a sonnet, "Carlyle and Emerson" (1883).[223]
  • Sarah Orne Jewett wrote "Carlyle in America", an unpublished short story, in 1885.[224][225]
  • Arthur Conan Doyle references Carlyle in his 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet, using a character's unfamiliarity with the name to illustrate his utter ignorance.
  • William Bell Scott, in his Autobiographical Sketches (1892), refers to a piece published in "an obscure magazine" titled "More Letters of Oliver Cromwell" wherein "the style of Carlyle [is] imitated."
  • In Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh (1903), Ernest Pontifex is assured that he will "make a kind of Carlyle sort of a man one day."
  • James Joyce parodied Carlyle in Episode 14 of Ulysses (1922), Oxen of the Sun.[226]
  • In To the Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf, Mr. Bankes bemoaned that "the young don't read Carlyle."[227]
  • Two Passengers for Chelsea (1928), a one-act play by American playwright Oscar W. Firkins, first appeared in Cornhill Magazine.
  • Hugh Kingsmill published "Some Modern Light-Bringers, As They Might have been Extinguished by Thomas Carlyle" in The Bookman in 1932.
  • In the Dorothy L. Sayers novel Gaudy Night (1935), Miss Lydgate criticizes her former pupil Harriet's popular biography of Carlyle for having "reproduced all the old gossip without troubling to verify anything."[228]
  • The Fire-Lighters: A Dialogue on a Burning Topic (1938), a play by Laurence Housman, younger brother of Shropshire poet A. E. Housman.
  • Elsie Prentys Thornton-Cook, a New Zealand-born writer, wrote Speaking Dust (1938), a novel that is "a reconstruction of the lives of Thomas Carlyle and his wife shown against the dramatic background of the time."
  • Mrs. Carlyle: A Historical Play (1950), a three-act play by Glenn Hughes first performed at the University of Washington's Showboat Theatre on 7 October 1948 with Lillian Gish in the role of Jane.
  • "The Inimitable Mr. Carlyle," one of the Grandfather Stories (1955) by Samuel Hopkins Adams, relates the impact of Carlyle on the culture of Rochester, New York in the 1880s.
  • Carlyle and Jane by Henry Donald, first presented at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1974; the text mostly conforms to "what the two principal correspondents, their relations and friends, actually wrote."
  • Neighboring Lives (1980), by Thomas M. Disch and Charles Naylor, is a fictional study of the Carlyles and their Chelsea neighbors from their arrival at No. 5, Cheyne Row in 1834 until the death of Jane in 1866.

Bibliography

By Thomas Carlyle

Major works

The standard edition of Carlyle's works is the Works in Thirty Volumes, also known as the Centenary Edition. The date given is when the work was "originally published."

  • Traill, Henry Duff, ed. (1896–1899). The Works of Thomas Carlyle in Thirty Volumes. London: Chapman and Hall.

Marginalia

This is a list of selected books, pamphlets and broadsides uncollected in the Miscellanies through 1880 as well as posthumous first editions and unpublished manuscripts.[229]

Scholarly editions

  • Altick, Richard D., ed. (2000). Past and Present (Reprint ed.). New York: New York University Press.
  • Cate, George Allen, ed. (1982). The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Fielding, Kenneth J.; Campbell, Ian, eds. (2009). Reminiscences (Reprint ed.). Glasgow: Kennedy & Boyd.
  • Goldberg, M. K.; Seigel, J. P., eds. (1983). Carlyle's Latter-Day Pamphlets. Canadian Federation for the Humanities.
  • McSweenery, Kerry; Sabor, Peter, eds. (2008). Sartor Resartus. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sanders, Charles Richard; Fielding, Kenneth J.; Ryals, Clyde de L.; Campbell, Ian; Christianson, Aileen; Clubbe, John; McIntosh, Sheila; Smith, Hilary; Sorensen, David, eds. (1970–2022). The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
  • Slater, Joseph, ed. (1964). The Correspondence of Emerson and Carlyle. New York and London: Columbia University Press.
  • Sorensen, David R.; Kinser, Brent E.; Engel, Mark, eds. (2019). The French Revolution. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • The Norman and Charlotte Strouse Edition of the Writings of Thomas Carlyle. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1993–2022.

Memoirs, etc.

Biographies

  • Campbell, Ian (1974). Thomas Carlyle (2nd Revised ed.). Glasgow, Scotland: Kennedy & Boyd (published 24 June 2011).
  • Fischer, Thomas A. (1882). Thomas Carlyle (in German).
  • Froude, James Anthony (1882). Thomas Carlyle: A History of the First Forty Years of his Life, 1795–1835. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.
  • Froude, James Anthony (1884). Thomas Carlyle: A History of his Life in London, 1834–1881. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.
  • Garnett, Richard (1887). Life of Thomas Carlyle.
  • Heffer, Simon (1996). Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • Kaplan, Fred (1983). Thomas Carlyle: A Biography. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Morrow, John (2006). Thomas Carlyle. New York: Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 978-1-85285-544-4.
  • Neff, Emery (1932). Carlyle. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Perry, Bliss (1915). Thomas Carlyle: How to Know Him. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
  • Shepherd, Richard Herne (1881). Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Carlyle.
  • Shine, Hill (1953). Carlyle's Early Reading, to 1834. Occasional Contributions. Vol. 57. Lexington: University of Kentucky Libraries.
  • Sloan, J. M. (1904). Hollern, Mary (ed.). The Carlyle Country (2nd ed.). Sheffield, England: The Grimsay Press (published 20 May 2010).
  • Symons, Julian (1952). Thomas Carlyle: The Life and Ideas of a Prophet. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Wilson, David Alec (1923). Carlyle Till Marriage (1795–1826). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • Wilson, David Alec (1924). Carlyle to "The French Revolution" (1826–1837). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • Wilson, David Alec (1925). Carlyle on Cromwell and Others (1837–48). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • Wilson, David Alec (1927). Carlyle at His Zenith (1848–53). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • Wilson, David Alec (1929). Carlyle to Threescore-and-Ten (1853–1865). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • Wilson, David Alec; MacArthur, David Wilson (1934). Carlyle in Old Age (1865–1881). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • Wylie, William Howie (1881). Thomas Carlyle, the Man and His Books. London.

Secondary sources

Notes

  1. ^ For the letter, written by John Morley and David Masson, and list of signatories, see New Letters of Thomas Carlyle, edited by Alexander Carlyle, vol. II, pp. 323–324.
  2. ^ The "total number of quotations from that author used in the dictionary as examples."
  3. ^ The "number of quotations that are considered first uses of a word that is a main entry– in other words the author can claim to have used the word first, or to have coined it."
  4. ^ The "number of words or phrases that are used by the author for the first time in a particular sense, such as figuratively instead of concretely, or for using a particular noun as a verb for the first time, or coining a phrase made from existing known words."
  5. ^ See above.
  6. ^ Houndsditch is a mercantile district in the East End of London which was associated with Jewish merchants of used clothing.

References

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