The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
Sir Fretful Plagiary, in the Critic, traces detraction to the "Good Natured Friend." "If one is praised, it is a foolish vanity to be gratified with it, but if there is abuse, why, one's always sure to hear of it from some-'d Good Natured Friend, or other." Carlyle found a Good Natured Friend in Froude. We suppose he used to snub "young" Froude awfully. Froude would rub his hands, like Newman Noggs, and chuckle, "A day will come, ha! ha!" Obviously there was a rankle. Generosity is not written on the visage of Froude. He is not a kindly Boswell. If Boswell had only painted all Johnson's mental warts and wrinkles, as Froude has done with poor old Tom—the literary Caliban of genius—the famous Life of Johnson would have become an unpleasant pathological study—like the Memorials of Carlyle. We have been celebrating the Johnson centenary. Froude has effectually prevented the celebration of a Carlyle Centenary. Johnson would have been forgotten but for Boswell, who embalmed himself and his friend together.
Mrs. Carlyle challenges our sympathies strongly. She flung away her life, and might have become a happy mother of a family—the sun and centre of a happy home. Instead of this, she committed the fatal mistake of allying herself with the genius who treated her so cruelly.
Carlyle's philosophic influence has almost died out. His philosophy was radically false. The bulbous-brained young men of thirty years ago were gone over Car-r-lyle, with a strong roll of the "r." Common sense, expediency, cheerfulness, and brightness in life, were all to be abandoned for a dismal creed, made up of the everlasting No! mixed with Hero Worship of force, and indeed, fraud. The intellectual world has cast oft this rubbish, leading into Serbonian bogs and all the Phlegethon of Mud, as the philosopher would say.
Carlyle resented Jeffrey's attempt at trimming his bushy page 2 thoughts. He plunged more and more into his exasperating style. This was pure affectation, like the disfigurements' of Irving's acting, the strut and the gasp. Cunning Carlyle found that it paid. He insisted on his wens, magnified them, and when he was most unintelligible the worshippers said he was most glorious.
His early papers, Encyclopœdia contributions, and some of the essays, are written in an excellent style, broad, Saxon, honest, and clear-toned as a bell. But he becomes a Paganini, and rasps on one string. His admirers got the taste for Pate de Foie Gras—diseased Goose Liver. He gratified them to the full, culminating in the "Frederick" which, apart from style, is one of the two or three real great English works of this century.
We are working off the yeast of our dislike to Carlyle, but will do justice to his merits before we have done. Setting aside his bastard German diction and his false ideals, there is to be found the man of research and accuracy. He never makes a mistake.
"Sartor Resartus," in its earlier numbers was almost enough to give the coup de grace to Fraser's Magazine. This work will infallibly die. It is a piece of literary Wagnerism which sets the teeth on edge and sharpens files. And we say that its philosophy is false. The wickedness and hollowness of the present age has been the theme of writers ever since the year one. Meanwhile, the world is carried on by practical and useful people, and continually improved. But writers are like actors, each has his line.
Carlyle's was the "O. Smith." A writer finds that the atrabilious suits his pen, and accordingly he pours out the bile for a livelihood.
While the "Frederic" is Carlyle's most ambitious effort, the "French Revolution" is his only work in which the style fits the topic. Doubtless we echo the sentiment of the bulk of our own readers in saying that the "French Revolution" is his only readable book. It is unique in English prose. At the same time, like Gibbon's "Rome," it is minutely accurate. Carlyle's "Cromwell" is a rhapsody so very inartistic that posterity will shelve it in favour of some biography the essentials of which can only be drawn from this remarkably conscientious work by Carlyle.
"Frederick the Groat" occupied him thirteen years, only reckoning from when he began to write it. Its inception was a high tribute to Carlyle's sagacity in foreseeing the development of Prussia. The work cost him infinite toil and pain. However, this is the condition of greatness. All the jargon of the writing cannot choke or stifle a book with such an imperishable texture. Even military critics cannot pick the slightest fault in its technicality.
Carlyle was a historian. His speculations are vague and wild. page 3 The collation of facts, vivifying the past, was his forte. We are sorry that he was moulded by German rather than by French influences. The gold has to be taken with the quartz. Here was the best endowed English mind of his time. Education and circumstances happened unfortunately. Yet labour smashed and crashed through the forest to an ultimate professional success. The result is a name only. There is not the faintest tinge discernible of Carlyle's philosophic influence in current literature.