He could not in the time have assimilated all the materials even then extant, and later accumulations would necessitate a complete revision. Considered as a “prose epic,” or a vivid utterance of the thought of the period, it has a permanent and unique value.
The book was speedily successful. It was reviewed by Mill in the Westminster and by Thackeray in The Times, and Carlyle, after a heroic struggle, was at last touching land. In each of the years 1837 to 1840 he gave a course of lectures, of which the last only (upon “Hero Worship”) was published; they materially helped his finances. By Emerson’s management he also received something during the same period from American publishers. At the age of forty-five he had thus become independent. He had also established a position among the chief writers of the day. Young disciples, among whom John Sterling was the most accepted, were gathering round him, and he became an object of social curiosity. Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), who won universal popularity by the most genuine kindliness of nature, became a cordial friend. Another important intimacy was with the Barings, afterwards Lord and Lady Ashburton. Carlyle’s conversational powers were extraordinary; though, as he won greater recognition as a prophet, he indulged too freely in didactic monologue. In his prophetic capacity he published two remarkable books: Chartism (1829), enlarged from an article which Lockhart, though personally approving, was afraid to take for the Quarterly; and Past and Present (1843), in which the recently published Mediaeval Chronicle was taken as a text for the exposure of modern evils. They may be regarded as expositions of the doctrine implicitly set forth in the French Revolution. Carlyle was a “radical” as sharing the sentiments of the class in which he was born. He had been profoundly moved by the widely-spread distresses in his earlier years. When the yeomanry were called out to suppress riots after the Peace, his sympathies were with the people rather than with the authorities. So far he was in harmony with Mill and the “philosophical radicals.” A fundamental divergence of principle, however, existed and was soon indicated by his speedy separation from the party and alienation from Mill himself. The Revolution, according to him, meant the sweeping away of effete beliefs and institutions, but implied also the necessity of a reconstructive process. Chartism begins with a fierce attack upon the laissez faire theory, which showed blindness to this necessity. The prevalent political economy, in which that theory was embodied, made a principle of neglecting the very evils which it should be the great function of government to remedy. Carlyle’s doctrines, entirely opposed to the ordinary opinions of Whigs and Radicals, found afterwards an expositor in his ardent disciple Ruskin, and have obvious affinities with more recent socialism. At the time he was as one crying in the wilderness to little practical purpose. Liberals were scandalized by his apparent identification of “right” with “might,” implied in the demand for a strong government; and though he often declared the true interpretation to be that the right would ultimately become might, his desire for strong government seemed too often to sanction the inverse view. He came into collision with philanthropists, and was supposed to approve of despotism for its own sake.
His religious position was equally unintelligible to the average mind. While unequivocally rejecting the accepted creeds, and so scandalizing even liberal theologians, he was still more hostile to simply sceptical and materialist tendencies. He was, as he called himself, a “mystic”; and his creed was too vague to be put into any formula beyond a condemnation of atheism. One corollary was the famous doctrine of “hero worship” first expounded in his lectures. Any philosophy of history which emphasized the importance of general causes seemed to him to imply a simply mechanical doctrine and to deny the efficacy of the great spiritual forces. He met it by making biography the essence of history, or attributing all great events to the “heroes,” who are the successive embodiments of divine revelations. This belief was implied in his next great work, the Life and Letters of Oliver Cromwell, published in 1845. The great Puritan hero was a man after his own heart, and the portrait drawn by so sympathetic a writer is not only intensely vivid, but a very effective rehabilitation of misrepresented character. The “biographical” view of history, however, implies the weakness, not only of unqualified approval of all Cromwell’s actions, but of omitting any attempt to estimate the Protector’s real relation to the social and political development of the time. The question, what was Cromwell’s real and permanent achievement, is not answered nor distinctly considered. The effect may be partly due to the peculiar form of the book as a detached series of documents and comments. The composition introduced Carlyle to the “Dryasdust” rubbish heaps of which he here and ever afterwards bitterly complained. A conscientious desire to unearth the facts, and the effort of extracting from the dullest records the materials for graphic pictures, made the process of production excessively painful. For some years after Cromwell Carlyle wrote little. His growing acceptance by publishers, and the inheritance of her property by Mrs Carlyle on her mother’s death in 1842, finally removed the stimulus of money pressure. He visited Ireland in 1846 and again in 1849, when he made a long tour in company with Sir C. Gavan Duffy, then a young member of the Nationalist party (see Sir C. G. Duffy’s Conversations with Carlyle, 1892, for an interesting narrative). Carlyle’s strong convictions as to the misery and misgovernment of Ireland recommended him to men who had taken part in the rising of 1848. Although the remedies acceptable to a eulogist of Cromwell could not be to their taste, they admired his moral teaching; and he received their attentions, as Sir C. G. Duffy testifies, with conspicuous courtesy. His aversion from the ordinary radicalism led to an article upon slavery in 1849, to which Mill replied, and which caused their final alienation. It was followed in 1850 by the Latterday Pamphlets, containing “sulphurous” denunciations of the do-nothing principle. They gave general offence, and the disapproval, according to Froude, stopped the sale for years. The Life of Sterling (d. 1844), which appeared in 1851, was intended to correct the life by Julius Hare, which had given too much prominence to theological questions. The subject roused Carlyle’s tenderest mood, and the Life is one of the most perfect in the language.
Carlyle meanwhile was suffering domestic troubles, unfortunately not exceptional in their nature, though the exceptional intellect and characters of the persons concerned have given them unusual prominence. Carlyle’s constitutional irritability made him intensely sensitive to petty annoyances. He suffered the torments of dyspepsia; he was often sleepless, and the crowing of “demon-fowls” in neighbours’ yards drove him wild. Composition meant for him intense absorption in his work; solitude and quiet were essential; and he resented interruptions by grotesque explosions of humorously exaggerated wrath. Mrs Carlyle had to pass many hours alone, and the management of the household and of devices intended to shield him from annoyances was left entirely to her. House-cleanings and struggles with builders during the construction of a “sound-proof room” taxed her energy, while Carlyle was hiding himself with his family in Scotland or staying at English country houses. Nothing could be more affectionate than his behaviour to his wife on serious occasions, such as the death of her mother, and he could be considerate when his attention was called to the facts. But he was often oblivious to the strain upon her energies, and had little command of his temper. An unfortunate aggravation of the difficulty arose from his intimacy with the Ashburtons. Lady Ashburton, a woman of singular social charm and great ability, appreciated the author, but apparently accepted the company of the author’s wife rather as a necessity than as an additional charm. Mrs Carlyle was hurt by the fine lady’s condescension and her husband’s accessibility to aristocratic blandishments. Carlyle, as a wise man, should have yielded to his wife’s wishes; unluckily, he was content to point out that her jealousy was unreasonable, and, upon that very insufficient ground, to disregard it and to continue his intimacy with the Ashburtons on the old terms. Mrs Carlyle bitterly resented his conduct. She had been willing to renounce any aspirations of her own and to sink herself in his glory, but she