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He does not desire to be effective; he only desires to be right. He does not desire passionately that something should be done; he only desires that it should be triumphantly proved to be necessary.

This is the real contribution of Carlyle to the philosophy of the man of action. He revealed, entirely justly, and entirely to the profit of us all, the pathos of the practical man. He made us feel, what is profoundly true, that the tragedy of the death of Mary, Queen of Scots, is nothing to the tragedy of the death of Elizabeth; that the tragedy of the death of Charles I.

A man like Charles I. He was worse than a tyrant, he was a logician. But a man like Cromwell is in a much harder case, for he does not wish to die and be a spectacle, but to live and be a force. He has to break altogether with the splendid logic of martyrdom. He has to eat his own words for breakfast, dinner, and supper.

He has to outlive a hundred incarnations, and always reject the last; his progress is like that unnerving initiation in the wild tale of Tom Moore's, in which the disciple had to climb up a stone stairway into the sky, every step of which fell away the moment his foot had left it. This is the only genuine truth that Carlyle brought from his study of strong men.

If ever he said that we must blindly obey the strong man, he was merely angry and personal, and untrue to his essentially generous and humane spirit.


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When he said that we must reverence the strong man he sometimes expressed himself with a certain heated confusion, and left it doubtful whether he meant that we should reverence the strong man as we respect Christ, or merely as we respect Sandow. But we should all agree with him in his essential and eternal contribution—that we should pity the strong man more than an idiot or a cripple. It may be said that there is a certain inconsistency between these two justifications of Carlyle's hero-worship: This kind of inconsistency does exist in Carlyle; it is, I may say with all reverence and with all certainty, the eternal and inevitable inconsistency which characterises those who receive divine revelations.

The larger world, which our systems attempt to explain and chiefly succeed in hiding, must, when it breaks through upon us, take forms which appear to be conflicting. The spiritual world is so rich that it is varied; so varied that it is inconsistent. The supreme glory of Carlyle was that he heard the veritable voices of the Cosmos.

He left it to others to attune them into an orchestra. Sometimes the truth he heard was this truth, that some men are to be commanded and some obeyed; sometimes that deeper and more democratic truth that all men are above all things to be pitied.

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It will be found relevant to what I have to say hereafter to remark at this point that I do not myself accept Carlyle's conception of the spiritual world as exhaustive. I believe in the essence of the old doctrine of equality, because it appears to me to result from all conceptions of the divinity of man. Of course there are inequalities, and obvious ones, but though they are not insignificant positively, they are insignificant comparatively. If men are all really the images of God, to talk about their differences has its significance, but only about the same significance which may be found in talking about the respective heights of twenty men, all of whom have received the Victoria Cross, or the respective length of the moustaches of twenty men, all of whom have died to save their fellow-creatures.

In comparison with the point in which they are equal, the point in which they are unequal is not merely decidedly, but almost infinitely, insignificant. But my reason for indicating my own opinion on the matter, at this point, is a definite one. Carlyle's view of equality does not happen to be mine; but it has an absolute right to be stated justly, and to be stated from Carlyle's point of view.

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It was not a brutal fear or a mean worship of force; it was a serious belief that some found blessedness in commanding, and some in obeying. Now this kind of intellectual justice was the one great quality which was lacking in Carlyle himself. He would not consent to listen to Rousseau's gospel, as I have suggested that we should listen to Carlyle's gospel. He would not put Rousseau's gospel from Rousseau's point of view. And consequently to the end of his days he never understood any gospel except Carlyle's gospel.

When a literary man is known to have been almost a monster of industry, when he has produced a colossal epic like "Frederick the Great" on the dullest of all earthly subjects—Germany in the eighteenth century—when he has piled up all the complicated material of the history of the French Revolution, lost it, and by a portent of heroism piled it all up again; when he has achieved such masterpieces of research as the discovery of sense in Cromwell's speeches, and good qualities in Frederick of Prussia: But this was in reality the chief weakness, in fact the only real weakness, of Carlyle as a moralist.

It is very much easier to have what may be called moral patience or mental patience than to have something which may best be described as spiritual patience. Carlyle was patient with facts, dates, documents, intolerably wearisome memoirs; but he was not patient with the soul of man. He was not patient with ideas, theories, tendencies, outside his own philosophy. He never understood, and therefore persistently undervalued, the real meaning of the idea of liberty, which is a faith in the growth and life of the human mind; vague indeed in its nature, but transcending in its magnitude even our faith in our own faiths.

He was something of a Tory, something of a Sans-culotte, something of a Puritan, something of an Imperialist, something of a Socialist; but he was never, even for a single moment, a Liberal. He did not believe as the Liberal believes, first indeed in his own truth, which in his eyes is pure truth, but beyond that also in that mightier truth which is made up of a million lies. And this spiritual impatience of Carlyle has left its peculiar mark in the only defect which can really be found in his historical works. Of the astonishing power and humour and poignancy of those historical works I think it scarcely necessary to speak.

A man must have a very poor literary sense who can read one of Carlyle's slighter sketches, such as "The Diamond Necklace," and not feel that he has at the same time to deal with one of the greatest satirists, one of the greatest mystics, and incomparably one of the finest story-tellers in the world. No historian ever realised so strongly the recondite and ill-digested fact that history has consisted of human beings, each isolated, each vacillating, each living in an eternal present; or, in other words, that history has not consisted of crowds, or kings, or Acts of Parliament, or systems of government, or articles of belief.

And Carlyle has, moreover, introduced into the philosophy of history one element which had been absent from it since the writing of the Old Testament—the element of something which can only be called humour in the just government of the universe. It is the note of the sarcasm of Providence.

Any one who will read those admirable chapters of Carlyle on Chartism will realise that, while all other humanitarians were insisting upon the cruelty or the inconsistency or the barbarism of neglecting the problem of labour, Carlyle is rather rilled with a kind of almost celestial astonishment at the absurdity of neglecting it. But a definite defect there is, as I have suggested, in Carlyle, considered as an historian, and it flows directly from that real moral defect in his nature, an impatience with other men's ideas. In judging of men as men, he was not only quick and graphic and correct, but in the main essentially genial and magnanimous.

Only a very superficial critic will think that Carlyle was misanthropic because he was surly. There is very much more real sympathy with human problems and temptations in a page of this shaggy old malcontent than in whole libraries of constitutional history by dapper and polite rationalists, who treat men as automata, and put their virtues and vices into separate pigeonholes.

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If I had made a mistake or committed a sin that had any sort of human character about it, I would very much rather fall into the hands of Carlyle than into the hands of Mr. But while Carlyle did realise the fact that every man carries about with him his own life and atmosphere, he did not realise that other truth, that every man carries about with him his own theory of the world. Each one of us is living in a separate Cosmos.


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  • The theory of life held by one man never corresponds exactly to that held by another. The whole of a man's opinions, morals, tastes, manners, hobbies, work back eventually to some picture of existence itself which, whether it be a paradise or a battle-field, or a school or a chaos, is not precisely the same picture of existence which lies at the back of any other brain. Carlyle had not fully realised that it was a case of one man, one Cosmos. Consequently, he devoted himself to asking what place any man, say Robespierre or Shelley, occupied in Carlyle's Cosmos.

    It never occurred to him sufficiently clearly to ask what place Shelley occupied in Shelley's Cosmos, or Robespierre in Robespierre's Cosmos. Not feeling the need of this, he never studied, he never really listened to, Shelley's philosophy or Robespierre's philosophy. Here, after a somewhat long circuit, we have arrived at the one serious deficiency in Carlyle's histories, a neglect to realise the importance of theory and of alternative theories in human affairs.

    The standing example of this is the "History of the French Revolution. Human nature, Carlyle seems to tell us, had been stifled more and more in the wrappings of artificiality, until, when its condition had just passed the tolerable, gagged, blinded, deaf, and ignorant of what it really wanted, by a gigantic muscular effort it burst its bonds. So far as it goes, that is perfectly true of the French Revolution; but only so far as it goes. The French Revolution was a sudden starting from slumber of that terrible spirit of man which sleeps through the greater number of the centuries; and Carlyle appreciates this, and describes it more powerfully and fearfully than any human historian, because this idea of the spirit of man breaking through formulae and building again on fundamentals was a part of his own philosophical theory, and therefore he understood it.

    But he never, as I have said, took any real trouble to understand other people's philosophical theories. And he did not realise the other fact about the French Revolution—the fact that it was not merely an elementary outbreak, but was also a great doctrinal movement. It is an astonishing thing that Carlyle's "French Revolution" contrives to be as admirable and as accurate a history as it is, while from one end to the other there is hardly a suggestion that he comprehended the moral and political theories which were the guiding stars of the French Revolutionists.

    It was not necessary that he should agree with them, but it was necessary that he should be interested in them; nay, in order that he should write a perfect history of their developments, it was necessary that he should admire them.

    The truly impartial historian is not he who is enthusiastic for neither side in a historic struggle: The truly impartial historian is he who is enthusiastic for both sides. He holds in his heart a hundred fanaticisms. The truly philosophical historian does not patronise Cromwell and pat the King on the head, as Hallam does; the true philosophical historian could ride after Cromwell like an Ironside and adore the King like a Cavalier.

    The only history that is worth knowing, or worth striving to know, is the history of the human head and the human heart, and of what great loves it has been enamoured: It is the glory of Carlyle that he did realise that the intellectual impartiality of the rationalist historian was merely emotional ignorance. It was his only defect that he extended his sympathy, in cases like that of the French Revolution, only to headlong men and impetuous actions, and not to great schools of revolutionary doctrine and faith.

    He made somewhat the same mistake with regard to the Middle Ages, touching which his contributions are unequalled in picturesqueness and potency. He conceived the mediaeval period in Europe as a barbaric verity, "a rude, stalwart age"; he did not realise what is more and more unfolding itself to all serious historians, that the mediaeval period in Europe was a civilisation based upon a certain scheme of moral science of almost unexampled multiplicity and stringency, a scheme in which the colours of a lacquey's coat could be traced back to a system of astronomy, and the smallest bye-law for a village green had some relation to great ecclesiastical and moral mysteries.

    It is remarkable that we always call a rival civilisation savage: The Middle Ages were a rival civilisation, based upon moral science, to ours based upon physical science. Most modern historians have abused this great civilisation for being barbarous: Carlyle had made one great stride beyond them in so far that he admired it for being barbarous. But his fatal strain of intellectual impatience prevented him from getting on to the right side of Catholic dogmas, just as it prevented him from getting on to the right side of Jacobin dogmas.

    He never really discovered what other people meant by Apostolic Succession, or Liberty, or Equality, or Fraternity. Probably his few mistakes arose from his unfortunate tendency to find "shams. A man is almost always wrong when he sets about to prove the unreality and uselessness of anything: I have a quite different and much more genuine right to say that bull's-eyes are nice than I have to say liquorice is nasty: I have found out the meaning of the first and not of the second.

    And if a man goes on a tearing hunt after shams, as Carlyle did, it is probable that he will find little or nothing real.

    Thomas Carlyle

    He is tearing off the branches to find the tree. I have said all that is to be said against Carlyle's work almost designedly: He came and spoke a word, and the chatter of rationalism stopped, and the sums would no longer work out and be ended. He was a breath of Nature turning in her sleep under the load of civilisation, a stir in the very stillness of God to tell us He was still there.

    In a house which his father, a mason, had built with his own hands, Thomas Carlyle was born on December 4th, His mother, Margaret Aitken, "a woman of the fairest descent, that of the pious, the just and wise," was the second wife of James Carlyle, and Thomas was the eldest of their nine children. The room at Arch House in which he was born now contains some interesting mementoes. On the mantelpiece are two turned wooden candlesticks, a gift of John Sterling, sent from Rome; the table provides a resting-place for his study-lamp and his tea-caddy. Most of the furniture came from Cheyne Row.

    In the Entepfuhl of Sartor Resartus Carlyle has pictured his native village. It consisted of a single street, down the side of which ran an open brook. It was then that, independently of Schiller's Wilhelm Tell , I made this not quite insignificant reflection so true also in spiritual things: Any road, this simple Entepfuhl road, will lead you to the end of the world! In the Carlyles moved to Mainhill Farm, and here he "first learned German, studied Faust in a dry ditch, and completed his translation of Wilhelm Meister!

    Ten years later Carlyle took possession of Hoddam Hill Farm, his mother going with him as housekeeper, and his brother Alick as practical farmer.

    Here they remained until Carlyle's first Edinburgh lodging in Simon Square. Carlyle came up from Ecclefechan to attend Edinburgh University when he was scarcely fourteen years of age, and with a companion, Tom Smail, journeyed the entire distance on foot. They secured a clean-looking and cheap lodging in Simon Square, a poor neighbourhood on the south side of Edinburgh, off Nicholson Street.

    After residing in various parts of the old town, Carlyle removed in to better quarters, and the most interesting of his various abodes in Edinburgh was at 1, Moray Street now Spey Street , Leith Walk. Here he commenced his literary work in earnest, and began to regard life from a brighter standpoint. Carlyle, in her Early Letters , mentions her father's home at Haddington where she was born.

    I love the bleaching green, where I used to caper, and roll, and tumble, and make gowan necklaces and chains of dandelion stalks, in the days of my ' wee existence. The house in which Carlyle lived whilst teaching at Kirkcaldy school. It was at Kirkcaldy that Carlyle first met Edward Irving, the master of a rival school in the town. They became intimate friends. Popularity Popularity Featured Price: Low to High Price: High to Low Avg.

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