The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53
On a Few Points in the Teaching of Thomas Carlyle
On a Few Points in the Teaching of Thomas Carlyle
"Life's a jest, and all things show it,
I thought so once, but now I know it."
Perhaps we should not be very far from the truth if we took this verselet to be the keynote of the spirit of the eighteenth century. Our own century is very different; it has regarded the problems of life with a very earnest, I might even say anxious, look; and one of the men who have in a very large degree contributed to the causes that have brought about this reversal of opinion is Thomas Carlyle.
To him "It is a most earnest thing to be alive in this world; to die is not sport for a man; man's life never was a sport to him; it was a stern reality, altogether a serious matter to be alive!" His character is that of his own Teufelsdröckh; "his attitude that of a man who had said to Cant, page 4 Begone, and to Dilettantism, Here thou canst not be; and to Truth, Be thou in place of all to me: a man who had manfully defied the Time-Prince, or Devil, to his face; nay perhaps, Hannibal-like, was mysteriously consecrated from birth to that warfare, and now stood minded to wage the same, by all weapons, in all places, at all times."
It will therefore be a matter of some interest to enquire into his faith, his philosophy, and to ask what answers he gave (if any) to the problems that ever present themselves to us. In doing so, we shall in vain attempt to find any exact and complete system, any formal cut-and-dried science of life, any solution in the form a + b (the sum of known quantities). Possibly a steam engine might seem to be capable of being described in this easy fashion, scarcely even a steam engine when in motion; a man, or life, or nature, could never be summed up thus. To the most importunate mathematician or scientist there is never given any more satisfactory solution than this;—a (a small known quantity) + x (an infinite unknown one); those who profess to have obtained an exact integral solution have done so by neglecting the second term.
Your religious dogmatist has no difficulty in defining and accounting for the seen or the unseen; your materialist, albeit he cannot solve the problem of the mutual action of three bodies, has at his fingers' ends the infinite processes of an infinite universe; your metaphysician catalogues an measures motives as easily as sugar. With refer- page 5 ence to which latter Carlyle says:—"Fantastic tricks enough man has played in his time; has fancied himself to be most things, down even to an animated heap of glass; but to fancy himself a dead iron balance for weighing pains and pleasures on, was reserved for this his latter era. . . . Were he not, as has been said, purblinded by enchantment, you had but to bid him open his eyes and look. In which country, in which time, was it hitherto that man's history, or the history of any man, went on by calculated or calculable motives? What make ye of your Christianities, and Chivalries, and Reformations, and Marseillese Hymns, and Reigns of Terror? Nay, has not perhaps, the motive-grinder himself been in Love? Did he never stand so much as a contested election? Leave him to Time, and the medicating virtue of Nature."
Knowing as little as we do, Nature seems full of paradoxes; Carlyle saw these, and expressed them. It would on this account be altogether a mistake to build up any complete system out of his teaching or to try to found a Carlylean School of Philosophy. He himself would not wish it, declared the thing in any real way not to be possible. The remainder of this essay will therefore merely be devoted to the consideration of those points on which he laid most stress in his teaching.
The point which separates Carlyle most from other teachers and philosophers of this age is the prominence assigned to the Individual Man. In these days our births and deaths, our cricket page 6 scores and zymotic diseases, our religious opinions and national tendencies to suicide, are all reduced to averages and percentages; and theories and laws are propounded about us and our doings so easily, that we might almost expect in a short time to have ready-reckoners of human action, in which—given the man, country, and time—we should have only to turn to the proper page and column to find out whether he was more likely to pay his tailor, quarrel with his wife, or be an atheist. We are threatened with the loss of our notions both of individual action and individual responsibility. It is the old question of Freewill and Necessity, Arminianism and Calvinism, over again, and no nearer solution now than of old; though both sides have frequently shifted their ground. We hear such phrases as "regeneration of the masses," "growth of the mass" (in intelligence, etc.): Carlyle would remind us that there can be no regeneration or growth of the mass apart from or which does not consist in the regeneration or the growth of the individuals of which the mass is composed. Some would take the history of the world to be best shown by the history of its several races and peoples: he would take it to be "at bottom the history of the great men who have worked here—they were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of what-soever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain." In many other ways he lays stress on the consideration due to the claims of the In- page 7 dividual; in the "French Revolution," for example, he traces much of the error of the old Regime to the ignoring of these claims, the lumping together of twenty to twenty-five millions of people "into a kind of dim compendious unity .... the masses. Masses indeed. And yet singular to say, if with an effort of imagination, thou follow them over broad France, into their clay hovels, into their garrets and hutches, the masses consist all of units. Every unit of whom has his own heart and sorrows; stands covered there with his own skin, and if you prick him he will bleed. O purple Sovereignty, Holiness, Reverence; thou, for example, Cardinal Grand-Almoner, with thy plush covering of honour, who hast thy hands strengthened with dignities and moneys, and art set on thy world watch-tower solemnly, in sight of God, for such ends,—what a thought: that every unit of these masses is a miraculous man, even as thou thyself art; struggling, with vision or with blindness, for his infinite kingdom (this life which he has got, once only, in the middle of Eternities); with a spark of the Divinity, what thou callest an immortal soul, in him." Carlyle does not altogether neglect the complementary half truth which is now made so prominent: "If now an existing generation of men stand woven together, not less indissolubly does generation with generation. We inherit not life only, but all the garniture and form of life; and work and speak, and even think and feel, as our fathers, and primeval grand-fathers have given it (i.e. tradition) to us. . . . Had page 8 there been no Mœsogothic Ulfila, there had been no English Shakspere, or a different one. It was Tubalcain that made thy very tailor's needle, and sewed that court suit of thine. Mankind like nature, is one, and a living indivisible whole. . . . The heroic heart, the seeing eye of the first times, still feels and sees in us of the latest."—And much elsewhere to the same effect.
The two books which perhaps more than any others attach this prominence to the individual are "Sartor Resartus" and "Heroes and Hero-worship,"—the former, in the fanciful sketch of Herr Teufelsdröckh's Life and Opinions, gives an account of the severest struggles through which the human mind can pass in its strivings after right thought and right action; the latter shows us the hero, the type individual, leader and pattern of lesser men. Those who, with limited time at their disposal, wish to gain some idea of the teaching of Carlyle, cannot do better than study carefully these two books.—I say "study" advisedly, for neither of them is a book that can be profitably polished off, like a fashionable novel, between dinner-time and bed-time.
It is sometimes held, or seems to be held, that a man's private and inner character bears no relation to his fitness for affairs, or at all events for public affairs. In times of public election, a cry is often raised, in England more, perhaps, than in the Colonies, "Measures, not Men,"—as it you could reasonably hope to get, except by chance, good measures without good men. Carlyle page 9 thought far otherwise, and in "Heroes" he expresses himself thus: "It is well said, in every sense, that a man's religion is the chief fact with regard to him. A man's, or a nation of men's. By religion I do not mean here the church creed which he professes, the articles of faith which he will sign, and, in words or otherwise assert; not this wholly, in many cases not this at all. We see men of all kinds of professed creeds attain to almost all degrees of worth or worthlessness under each or any of them. This is not what I call religion, this profession and assertion; which is often only a profession and assertion from the outworks of the man, from the mere argumentative region of him, if even so deep as that. But the thing a man does practically believe (and this is often enough without asserting it even to himself, much less to others): the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest. ... Of a man or a nation we inquire, therefore, first of all, what religion they had? . . Answering of this question is giving us the soul of the history of the man or nation. The thoughts they had were the parents of the actions they did; their feelings were parents of their thoughts: it was the unseen and spiritual in them that determined the outward and actual;—their religion, as I say, was the great fact about them.page 10
A most natural question which would suggest itself at once to the minds of many would be, What then was the religion of Thomas Carlyle? To which, perhaps, one might be justified, on be-half of the latter, in answering in the words of Johnson and Emerson, "All wise men have but one religion, and that religion wise men never tell." Nevertheless, I hope in the course of this essay to give materials, which, although not helping you to place Carlyle in any religious category, will enable you to see that he had a real religion, and to judge of what calibre this religion was. Before going further, I will, moreover, quote three passages—which are not probably the best which could be chosen, but will illustrate sufficiently well his attitude towards Nature.
The first I take from "Heroes and Hero-worship," chapter I:—
"This Universe, ah me,—what could the wild man know of it; what can we yet know? That it is a Force, and thousandfold complexity of Forces; a force which is not we. That is all; it is not we; it is altogether different from us. Force, Force, everywhere Force; we ourselves a mysterious Force in the centre of that. 'There is not a leaf rotting on the highway but has Force in it: how else could it rot?' Nay, surely to the atheistic thinker, if such a one were possible, it must be a miracle too, this huge illimitable whirlwind of force, which envelops us here; never-resting whirlwind, high as Immensity, old as Eternity. What is it? Gods creation, the religious people answer; it is the al- page 11 mighty God's! Atheistic science babbles poorly of it, with scientific nomenclatures, experiments and what-not, as if it were a poor dead thing, to be bottled up in Leyden jars and sold over counters: but the natural sense of man, in all times, if he will honestly apply his sense, proclaims it to be a living thing,—ah, an unspeakable, godlike thing; towards which the best attitude for us, after never so much science, is awe, devout prostration and humility of soul; worship, if not in words, then in silence."
"We speak of the Volume of Nature: and truly a Volume it is,—whose Author and Writer is God. To read it! Dost thou, does man, so much as well know the Alphabet thereof? With its Words, Sentences, and grand descriptive Pages, poetical and philosophical, spread out through Solar Systems, and Thousands of Years, we shall not try thee. It is a volume written in celestial hieroglyphs, in the true Sacred-writing; of which Prophets are happy that they can read here a line and there a line. As for your Institutes and Academies of Science, they strive bravely; and, from amid the thick-crowded, inextricably intertwisted hieroglyphic writing, pick out, by dextrous combination, some letters in the vulgar character, and therefrom put together this and the other economic recipe of high avail in practice. That Nature is more than some boundless Volume of such Recipes, a huge, well-nigh inexhaustible page 12 Domestic Cookery Book, of which the whole secret will in this manner one day evolve itself, the fewest dream."
"He gazed over those stupendous masses with wonder, almost with longing desire; never till this hour had he known Nature, that she was One, that she was his Mother, and divine. And as the ruddy glow was fading into clearness in the sky, and the Sun had now departed, a murmur of Eternity and Immensity, of Death and of Life, stole through his soul; and he felt as if Death and Life were one, as if the Earth were not dead, as if the Spirit of the Earth had its throne in that splendour, and his own spirit were therewith holding communion."
It being understood then that a man's religion, or relation to the Universe, is all important, we come to the first essential of any religion, any true relation to Nature or Life at all. The first condition necessary to any kind of real perception of things, or to any sort of worthy doing, is sincerity, honesty, freedom from cant, sham, and hypocrisy. Coupled with this is a fearless bravery on the side of right, grounded on the conviction that right is right, and that wrong cannot by any juggling of words be made right. In his denunciation of what is false and unreal he is as bold and uncompromising as any Isaiah, Socrates, or Luther of past ages, and might fitly be termed our "apostle or "prophet of honesty." He would not have lived in page 13 vain if he had taught us no other lesson than this—to hate all lies and shams, under whatever forms they may appear, with a perfect hatred. No weapon was spared against all things which were, or appeared to him to be, unrealities; he assailed them in prose and parable with assertion, with argument, and with ridicule. "Man everywhere is the born enemy of lies." There is no mistake about this article of his creed, however misty some of the others may be. Whether these falsities be found in politics or religion, in literature or social life, it is all alike to him; with them he holds no parley, makes no truce. To him the French Revolution is a wild uprising of the forces of human nature against an accumulated growth of shams, artificialities and injustices. He counts a Sham-priest the falsest and basest of all men; rulers must cease to be quacks, or else depart; the remedies of political economists are pushed aside for evils that lie much deeper than pounds, shillings and pence; and lastly, that elegant sham, the Dandiacal Body, is dismissed with a superb sneer: thus "A Dandy is a Clothes-wearing Man, a Man whose trade, office and existence consist in the wearing of Clothes. Every faculty of his soul, spirit, purse and person is heroically consecrated to this one object, the wearing of Clothes wisely and well; so that as others dress to live, he lives to dress." It must not be supposed that Carlyle is blind to the good contained in many of these things: he fully recognises the grandeur of the Feudal System which received its death- page 14 blow when the Bastille fell: a true Priest, or Interpreter of the Holy, he recognises as the noblest and highest of all men; the true king is heaven-sent, rules by right divine; the strict demands of political economy cannot be passed over any more than the calls of hunger can; and so on.
Nevertheless, there are people who object to such fierce denunciation of what is false. They do not like to hear a lie called by such an ugly name, but would fain forget the poisonous qualities of the poppy by calling it a rose. They say that Carlyle is one-sided, and lacks human sympathy and charity. That he is not altogether one-sided I have already pointed out; to a certain extent (especially in smaller details) every teacher or preacher is bound to be one-sided who proceeds on broad lines, and not on narrow ones. That he lacks human sympathy is a charge more generally made, but in any deep or wide sense quite without foundation. We are speaking of his teaching as contained in his books now, and I believe that there is not a book of the many he has written through which there cannot be distinctly traced a current of profound sympathy with all sorts and conditions of men. "We may pause in sorrow and silence over the depths of darkness that are in man," he says; but only "if we rejoice in the heights of purer vision he has attained to." He quotes with approval that saying of Saint Chrysostom, "The true Shekinah is man;" and, again, these words of Novalis, "There is but one temple in the world, and that temple is the Body page 15 of Man: nothing is holier than this high Form r bending before men is a reverence done to this Revelation in the Flesh: we touch heaven when we lay our hands on a human Body." The very Hatred, the very Envy, the foolish Lies which one man tells of another in his splenetic humour he states to be merely an inverted sympathy. He has pity for the proud, but ill-fated, Marie Antoinette, and for the inarticulate struggles of a Paris mob.
But, for all that, he must deliver himself of his message against Falsehood and Illusion. That a man should stand on the basis of Fact and Reality is then the first step; nay, some, for instance John Knox, have become heroic by sincerity alone; it was their grand gift. To sum up this part in Carlyle's own words:—"There is no man adequate to do anything, but is first of all in right earnest about it; what I call a sincere man. I should say sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic."
When Teufelsdröckh, in the dirty little Rue Saint Thomas de l'Enfer had bidden Falsehood and Fear begone, and to the Everlasting No had said, Get thee behind me, there still remained a black spot in his sunshine, the Shadow of Self. The getting rid of this, or at least the burying and ignoring of it, is the next step in his onward progress. We all imagine that we have a right to be happy, and by striking a certain average of happiness according to methods of our own we arrive at the minimum of enjoyment which we consider our page 16 indefeasible right. An idea of this sort, gradually and insensibly adopted, and fostered by inclination and circumstance, must needs warp and control the whole action of our lives, and take away from our allegiance to the highest ideals that whole-heartedness which they demand. Self-regard is an insuperable barrier to all higher forms of heroism; the temper of the mind must be changed before anything truly heroic can be looked for. It matters not by what name you call this choice or change of position, or whether it takes place slowly or suddenly, consciously or unconsciously, the fact itself is of the deepest importance. The Methodist calls it Conversion; the Buddhist, Self-Renunciation; the Positivist, Devotion, Consecration to Truth; the Mystic names it Self-Death, Self-Annihilation.
Who told thee thou hadst any right to be happy? Do thy duty and die. "I tell thee, Blockhead, it all comes of thy Vanity; of what thou fanciest those same deserts of thine to be. Fancy that thou deservest to be hanged (as is most likely), thou wilt feel it happiness to be only shot: fancy that thou deservest to be hanged in a hair-halter, it will be a luxury to die in hemp. . . . There is in man a Higher than Love of Happiness: he can do without Happiness, and instead thereof find Blessedness!" In short—"Love not Pleasure: love God." Or if this language be too theological for you, let us put it otherwise, in the words of a mediæval German writer:—"That which is best should be the dearest of all things to us; and in page 17 our love of it neither helpfulness nor unhelpfulness advantage nor injury, gain nor loss, honour nor dishonour, praise nor blame, nor anything of the kind should be regarded; but what is in truth the noblest and best of all things, should be also the dearest of all things, and that for no other cause than that it is the noblest and best."
To many this lofty ideal is incomprehensible, to most it seems utterly unattainable. Emerson advises us thus:—"If we cannot attain at a bound to those grandeurs, at least let us do them homage. . . . There are," he says, "many eyes that can detect and honour the prudent and household virtues; there are many that can discern genius on his starry track, though the mob is incapable; but when that love which is all-suffering, all-abstaining, all-aspiring, which has vowed to itself that it will be a wretch and also a fool in this world, sooner than soil its white hands by any compliances, comes into our streets and houses—only the pure and aspiring can know its face, and the only compliment they can pay it, is to own it." A wild, Utopian, and impossible ideal! and so men dismiss it. Yet let us not do so. Who shall place bounds to what is possible for any human soul? When the safety of Rome trembles in the balance, and Curtius stands mounted in the Forum, who shall forbid him to take the fatal leap?
But even this temper of mind, if by pain and difficulty it be achieved, does not solve all questions—indeed, merely prepares the way for the clear statement of the questions to be solved. The great page 18 dispeller of the mists which remain is Work. "Do the Duty which lies nearest thee" which thou knowest to be a Duty! Thy second Duty will already have become clearer. Earnest work of almost any kind brings a man into contact with Fact and with Nature; order and harmony appear where confusion reigned before. The man is now a man. If the work be true work, he is not only in communication with Nature, but in unison with it—he is "part and parcel of great Nature's Law." "All true Work," says Carlyle in his "Past and Present," "is sacred; in all true Work, were it but true hand-labour, there is something of divineness." Work may be true, and even heroic, although it may be unsuccessful to all outward appearance. And this, perhaps, will be the place to speak of a charge that is sometimes brought in strongly positive terms against Carlyle—that of worship-ping success. A very superficial knowledge of his works would have been enough, I should have thought, to have overturned, or to have considerably qualified this judgment. It is founded principally on his admiration, or supposed admiration, for Cromwell, Napoleon, and Frederick the Great. With regard to the first, his admiration certainly does not depend upon the success of his hero; no one, however, can deny that the patient and exhaustive work, the results of which are contained in the five volumes of Cromwell's Life and Letters, has materially changed the opinion of all but the most bigoted historians as to the character of the Great Protector, Napoleon Carlyle calls page 19 an unconscious divine missionary, who "preached, through the cannon's throat, that great doctrine, La carriüre ouverte aux talens (the tools to him that can handle them)"; and, while admitting Napoleon's insight into facts and scornful disregard of shams, he yet judges him to have had no such sincerity as Cromwell, and finally to have been led away by ambition and self-deception to false purposes and so to ruin.
I am not prepared to give an opinion upon Frederick the Great, as I have not made a study of it; it is, however, no secret that the work grew more and more distasteful to Carlyle, and his self-respect alone induced him to accomplish the task, and make it at least a complete history of the great Fritz.
For more positive evidence that he did not worship mere success, we have his charming Life of John Sterling, a man who, though a good, generous, true, and perfectly transparent soul, was by no means successful according to any ordinary modes of measuring success. Again, in his lecture on the Hero as Prophet, he characterises "David's life and history, as written for us in those Psalms of his," as "the truest emblem ever given of a man's moral progress and warfare here below"; and goes on to say—"All earnest souls will ever discern in it the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul towards what is good and best. Struggle often baffled, sore baffled, down as into entire wreck; yet a struggle never ended; ever with tears, repentance, true unconquerable pur- page 20 pose begun anew. Poor human nature! Is not a man's walking in truth always that, 'a succession of falls?' Man can do no other. In this wild element of a Life he has to struggle onwards; now fallen, deep-abased; and ever with tears, repentance, with bleeding heart, he has to rise again, struggle again still onwards. That his struggle be a faithful, unconquerable one: that is the question of questions!" This, surely, is not worship of success.
Of course, success in right work is not a bad thing, but a good thing; yet, if work be judged merely by the outward success of it, by the glory which it brings to the man, and the noise it causes in the world, the simple, real, earnest aim itself is soon lost sight of, and a passing fame or notoriety is looked for instead; and then, when the fireworks are all burnt out, there is left to us—-just the smell of the powder. This over anxiety for success and fame is chiefly due to a desire for a reward for work, a price for one's life. He that is truly heroic looks for no reward except the consciousness of having finished the work he was given to do. Providence, indeed, knows of no higher reward for duty done than the acknowledgment that it has been well done, as by a good and faithful servant. It is no common or coarse material that the true worker uses, however rough the externals of his work may be; the cost to him is his own heart's blood, his very life, and what shall be the price of that. "My brother," says Carlyle, "the brave man has page 21 to give his life away; he never could sell it, or any part of it, in a satisfactory manner. He gives it, therefore, like a royal heart."
All work is good, even Mammonism; anything we are in earnest about; yet all work is not worthy work. The Gospel of Mammonism indeed, whose Heaven is success in money-making, and whose Hell is failure therein, though adopted and more or less openly professed by all English peoples, and after them by the rest, has led to strange conclusions. What we call Society, or union of interests, is in reality the totalest separation, isolation. Our life, so far as it is regulated by these rules, is not a mutual helpfulness; but rather, cloaked under due laws of war, named "fair competition," and so forth, it is a mutual hostility. Under this guidance we forget that cash payment is not the sole relation of human beings, and neglect or become careless in the performance of those duties to which there correspond no entries in our ledgers. There is no sure foundation, no reality in such Philosophy; and the man or nation of men that thinks there is, must come in the end to chaos and confusion.
Earnest work is the hope of the world,—for, in spite of mistaken notions to the contrary, Carlyle did not despair of the future of the world; he was not a pessimist. We find him saying: "Light is coming into the world; men love not darkness, they do love light . . . . . Some Chivalry of Labour, some noble Humanity and practical Divineness of Labour will yet be realized on this page 22 Earth." And it must begin in the Present if it is to be accomplished in the Future." Here or nowhere, now equally as at anytime." Therefore "subdue mutiny, discord, widespread despair, by manfulness, justice, mercy, and wisdom..... Unstained by wasteful deformities, by wasted tears or heart's blood of men, or any defacement of the Pit, noble, fruitful Labour, growing ever nobler, will come forth,—the grand, sole miracle of Man; whereby Man has risen from the low places of this Earth, very literally into divine Heavens. Ploughers, Spinners, Builders, Prophets, Poets, Kings, Brindleys, and Goethes, Odins and Arkwrights; all martyrs, and noble men, and gods are of one grand Most; immeasurable, marching ever forward since the beginning of the World. The enormous, all-conquering, feme-crowned Host, noble every soldier in it; sacred, and alone noble. Let him who is not of it hide himself; let him tremble for himself. Stars at every button cannot make him noble; sheaves of Bath-garters, nor bushels of Georges; nor any other contrivance but manfully enlisting in it, valiantly taking place and step in it."
This, then, is the sum of Carlyle's teaching as regards the Individual Man:—(I) An earnest sincerity of purpose and performance; (2) A Complete Renunciation of Self, and a reverent attitude towards Nature, towards whatever is higher than ourselves; (3) Faithful and worthy Work.
We pass on next to that part of his teaching which bears more directly on the duties of men in page 23 a Society, and on Government. Hero-worship affords the link between this branch of the subject and that which has already been taken up. In his lectures on Heroes, and elsewhere throughout his works, Carlyle has shown a keen appreciation for men of all ranks and departments of life who have done true and lasting work in this world; to the Individual they are pointed out as patterns and models, as parts of the great infinite Nature for which his reverence is demanded. But, more than this, great men are the natural rulers of their race; to them the government belongs—all others are usurpers and unrealities. The discoverability of the Hero is the difficulty—whom to reverence, whom to obey. The old methods have done their work, and are now worn out; our kings and queens for the most part are mere pleasant shadows, from whom the danger is less because they are generally known and acknowledged to be shadows. Our Aristocracy (though this is not so true as it was thirty or forty years ago), our Hengsts and soforth, are for the most part busy, preserving their game; our Prime Ministers, or nearest approximations to kings, are at present merely the mouthpieces of a Democracy, removable at the whim of the said Democracy. Carlyle held and expressed strongly many ideas usually classed as democratic. For instance, he recognised no rank but worth, or worthiness of soul; he looked through all outward titles, circumstances, and paraphernalia whatever—"a man's a man for a that"—and asked what of the heroic mind and power there was in a man. Nothing page 24 could be more democratic, in the popular sense., than his cynical summing up of war. Thirty British artizans are impressed as soldiers, and meet thirty similar French artizans. "Straightway, the word 'Fire!' is given, and they blow the souls out of one another; and in place of sixty brisk, useful craftsmen, the world has sixty dead car-cases, which it must bury and anew shed tears for. Had these men any quarrel? Busy as the Devil is, not the smallest! They lived far enough apart; were the entirest strangers; nay, in so wide a Universe there was even, unconsciously, by commerce, some mutual helpfulness between them. How then? Simpleton! Their Governors had fallen out; and, instead of shooting one another, had the cunning to make these poor blockheads shoot. Alas, so it is in Deutschland, and hitherto in all other lands; still, as of old, 'what devilry soever kings do, the Greeks must pay the piper!" Yet he was strongly opposed to Democracy, to government by the Demos or Mass. And his objection is one very difficult to answer; it is in effect: How can you expect a nation of unheroic souls to carry out an heroic policy, or a mass of unwise nonentities to select the wise and discerning men in their midst? Democracy, he thinks, leads inevitably to confusion and anarchy; such government is indeed, while it lasts, only a modified and chronic anarchy. And out of anarchy and chaos can come nothing good, except by the suppression of anarchy. Anarchy is only excusable when the previously existing government of page 25 a country is one vast, persistent s justifiable even then. "Of all the resources that may be open to you, "he says in a letter to a young man, "try Revolution last." "Revolting," he characterises in his "Irish Notes" as "the unprofitablest of all trades."
The only answer perhaps possible to Carlyle's question is the counter-question already suggested: How are you going to find your Hero-King? And this is no true answer; for difficulties in the way of right action give no reason for perseverance in wrong action.
A Parliament is composed of the delegates of a democracy, and is, as it were, a compressed or concentrated democracy—with its different elements—its unwisdoms, self-seeking aims, and chaotic cries for redress of unknown or imaginary grievances, as well as its wiser and truer demands, and its inspirations of justice and liberty, all represented. Now a Parliament may be looked at in two ways: it may be regarded as expressing the wants and wishes of the nation, and therefore as a body to be consulted by the Sovereign or executive King of a Nation; or it may itself enact the Sovereign ruler and be supreme over all things. It is very important that these two functions of Parliaments, Consultation and Ruling, should not be confused. In these days of a Free Press (at least, in all English - speaking countries) there is no need for a Parliament to express the wants and wishes of the community. "The real Parliamentary Debate goes on of itself, every- page 26 where, continually." The Newspaper is an open Forum, in which all opinions can be vented, all grievances stated — from the loss of your umbrella in a railway carriage to the loss of your honour and fortune by unjust Sovereign persons. With regard to the second function of a Parliament, it is evident that in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the British Colonies,—and in other countries to a certain extent,—the Representative Assemblies, by whatever name they may be called, are practically the Sovereign rulers of the respective countries. Now this is precisely the role they are incapable of playing; actual government should either by one able man (who will not generally be the eldest-born of any specified family); or failing that, by a Reformed Downing Street, an administration by a select number of really able men—heroically minded, if not heroes. Carlyle's opinion (written thirty-two years ago) seems to be confirmed when we glance at the present condition of the British Parliament. There we see an Assembly of 658 men, talking for half the day during several months of the year, thrashing straw from which newspaper writers everywhere have shaken the last grain, and wasting so much time that almost none of the necessary legislation can be accomplished.
If 658 hens were to assemble for several months annually and practise cackling, I wonder how many broods of chickens good house-wives would be able to reckon up at the close of each season.page 27
Democracy in England and America Carlyle considers as destined to work itself out, and to be followed by a truer government of the Able and Wise Men of each Country. This time may be distant; yet (though a democrat myself) I do not believe that were we ourselves of heroic mind, we should hesitate for one moment to give up our rights of self-government to any true Heavensent Hero King, and to obey him without reserve. "We, for our share, will put away all Flunkyism, Baseness, Unveracity from us; we shall then hope to have Noblenesses and Veracities set over us; never till then."
There are many other points which might be profitably considered, besides those which have been the subject of this rapid notice. Such are his hatred of false sentimentalism; his scorn for those schemes of political economists which assume to be complete gospels for humanity; his position in regard to Pauperism and Labour Questions,—"He that will not work neither shall he cat." In all these, and many more may be traced the working out of his' strongest passion: the hatred of all unreality and sham. This ruling passion of his, I am free to admit, led him astray, and that not once or twice merely. If he had proceeded with the cautious step and the gentlemanly manner that some of his critics would like to see adopted in fighting the Devil, he would have made fewer mistakes perhaps, but would have left us quite without those grand lessons which have enriched and may ennoble our age and page 28 race. In society he was often misjudged by those who were incapable of comprehending such intense moral force, and was occasionally misunderstood even by friends.
"I believe," he wrote, "that what Mr. Carlyle loves better than his fault-finding, with all its eloquence, is the face of any human creature that looks suffering and loving and sincere; and I believe, further, that if the fellow-creature were suffering only, and neither loving nor sincere, but had come to a pass of agony in this life which put him at the mercies of some good man for some last help and consolation towards his grave, even at the risk of loss to repute, and a sure amount of pain and vexation, that man, if the groan reached him in its forlornness, would be Thomas Carlyle."
Great men are not so plentiful that we can afford to neglect or depreciate them. He who picks holes in the character of a great teacher, and dwells rather on his casual faults than the truer part of him, not only robs himself of one of Heavens brightest gifts, but mutilates it for others.
It would not, indeed, profit us to follow all the recent critics, who in a few short months, on page 29 strength of one book written in moments of deepest anguish, have seen fit to demolish our reverence for this great Seer. Many of them found the publication of the Reminiscences a lucky excuse for giving up their adherence to a philosophy they had never really admired, except in so far as it was fashionable to do so. I do not believe it lessened the number of his sincere friends and admirers. His fame stands in no lasting danger from such critics, and it will come back again without our aid—we should but waste time to plead for him whose voice fills half our century.
"Simon Brodie had a cow,
He lost his cow, and he couldna find her;
When he had done what man could do,
The cow cam' hame, and her tail behind her."
We will learn wisdom herefrom, and, sparing unnecessary pains, will leave Carlyle's reputation to take care of itself.
"Often also could I see the black Tempest marching in anger through the Distance; round some Schreckhorn, as yet grim-blue, would the eddying vapour gather, and there tumultuously eddy, and flow down like a mad witch's hair; till after a space it vanished; and, in the clear sunbeam your Schreckhorn stood smiling grim-white, for the vapour had held snow. How thou fermentest and elaboratest in thy great fermenting-vat and laboratory of an Atmosphere, of a World, O, Nature!—Or what is Nature? Ha! Why do I not name thee God? Art thou not the Living Garment of God? O, Heavens, is it, in very deed, He, then, that ever speaks through thee; that lives and loves in thee; that lives and loves in me?
"Fore-shadows, call them rather fore-splendours, of that Truth, and beginning of Truths, fell mysteriously over my soul. Sweeter than Day-spring to the Shipwrecked in Nova Zembla; ah, like the mother's voice to her little child that strays bewildered, weeping, in unknown tumults like soft streamings of celestial music to my too exasperated heart, came that Evangel. The Universe is not dead and demoniacal, a charnel-house with spectres, but God-like, and my Father's!
"With other eyes, too, could I now look upon my fellow man; with an Infinite Love, an Infinite Pity. Poor, wandering, wayward man! Art thou not tried and beaten with stripes, even as I am? page 31 Ever, whether thou bear the royal mantle or the beggar's gabardine, art thou not so weary, so heavy-laden, and thy Bed of Rest is but a Grave. O, my Brother, my Brother, why cannot I shelter thee in my bosom, and wipe away all tears from thy eyes! Truly, the din of many-voiced life, which in this solitude, with the mind's organ, I could hear, was no longer a maddening discord, but a melting one; like inarticulate cries, and sobbings of a dumb creature, which in the ear of Heaven are prayers. The poor Earth, with her poor joys, was my needy Mother, not my cruel Step-dame. Man, with his so mad Wants, and so mean Endeavours, had become the dearer to me; and even for his sufferings and his sins, I now first named him Brother. Thus was I standing in the porch of that 'Sanctuary of Sorrow'; by strange, steep ways had I, too, been guided thither, and ere long its sacred gates would open, and the 'Divine Depth of Sorrow' lie disclosed to me."
When we read a passage like this, surely all carping criticism must for a time at least die away, and our minds must turn to that grand sentence in his Rectorial Address at Edinburgh—"There is a nobler ambition than the gaining of all California, or the getting of all the suffrages that are on the planet just now."
To the Problem of Life, Carlyle has given us no easy arithmetical solution—but has he therefore failed? Surely not. If in an unheroic age he has taught us to be heroic; if, through him, we have faith to believe that the Nature of Things at page 32 the core of it is good and not chaotic; if we have patience to work, and to wait and hope for those things which as yet we see not (and ourselves may never see); if, keeping Duty steadily in view, we live in obedience to its dictates, construed and interpreted by the aid of our best spiritual and moral instincts, by our conscience and our reason; we shall not have read our Carlyle in vain. Though we cannot solve the problem, we shall have rendered its solution easier to others; though to us there be denied that vision of Truth which none but the pure-eyed see, yet those who come after us will, by our efforts and even by our failures, be able to catch nearer and nearer glimpses of Her face; till Man shall see, in the far good time to come, no longer through a glass darkly, but shall look face to face into Nature, and be transformed by the sight. And as for ourselves, —though in painfully seeking for a road amidst the perplexing paths of Life we lose our way we shall have found what we had sought, and have lost ourselves in the Infinite Soul of the Universe.
"Stand in his place and testify
To coming ages long,
That truth is stronger than a lie,
And Righteousness than wrong."
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