The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 1/Number 2/Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle is a name which no man of this generation should pronounce without respect; for it belongs to one of the high-priests of modern literature, to whom all contemporary minds are indebted, and by whose intellect and influence a new spiritual cultus has been established in the realm of letters. It is yet impossible to estimate either the present value or the remote issues of the work which he has accomplished. We see that a revolution in all the departments of thought, feeling, and literary enterprise has been silently achieved amongst us, but we are yet ignorant of its full bearing, and of the final goal to which it is hurrying us. One thing, however, is clear respecting it: that it was not forced in the hot-bed of any possible fanaticism, but that it grew fairly out of the soil, a genuine product of the time and its circumstances. It was, indeed, a new manifestation of the hidden forces and vitalities of what we call Protestantism,—an assertion by the living soul of its right to be heard once more in a world which seemed to ignore its existence, and had set up a ghastly skeleton of dry bones for its oracle and God. It was that necessary return to health, earnestness, and virtuous endeavor which Kreeshna speaks of in the Hindoo Geeta: "Whenever vice and corruption have sapped the foundations of the world, and men have lost their sense of good and evil, I, Kreeshna, make myself manifest for the restoration of order, and the establishment of justice, virtue, and piety." And so this literary revolution, of which we are speaking, brought us from frivolity to earnestness, from unbelief and all the dire negations which it engenders, to a sublime faith in human duty and the providence of God.
We have no room here to trace either the foreign or the native influences which, operating as antagonism or as inspiration upon the minds of Coleridge, Carlyle, and others, produced finally these great and memorable results. It is but justice, however, to recognize Coleridge as the pioneer of the new era. His fine metaphysical intellect and grand imagination, nurtured and matured in the German schools of philosophy and theology, reproduced the speculations of their great thinkers in a form and coloring which could not fail to be attractive to all seeking and sincere minds in England. The French Revolution and the Encyclopedists had already prepared the ground for the reception of new thought and revelation. Hence Coleridge, as writer and speaker, drew towards his centre all the young and ardent men of his time,—and among others, the subject of the present article. Carlyle, however, does not seem to have profited much by the spoken discourses of the master; and in his "Life of Sterling" he gives an exceedingly graphic, cynical, and amusing account of the oracular meetings at Highgate, where the philosopher sat in his great easy-chair, surrounded by his disciples and devotees, uttering, amid floods of unintelligible, mystic eloquence, those radiant thoughts and startling truths which warrant his claim to genius, if not to greatness. It is curious to observe how at this early period of Carlyle's life, when all the talent and learning of England bowed at these levees before the gigantic speculator and dreamer, he, perhaps alone, stood aloof from the motley throng of worshippers,—with them, but not of them,—coolly analyzing every sentence delivered by the oracle, and sufficiently learned in the divine lore to separate the gold from the dross. What was good and productive he was ready to recognize and assimilate; leaving the opium pomps and splendors of the discourse, and all the Oriental imagery with which the speaker decorated his bathos, to those who could find profit therein. It is still more curious and sorrowful to see this great Coleridge, endowed with such high gifts, of so various learning, and possessing so marvellous and plastic a power over all the forms of language, forsaking the true for the false inspiration, and relying upon a vile drug to stimulate his large and lazy intellect into action. Carlyle seems to have regarded him at this period as a sort of fallen demigod; and although he sneers, with an almost Mephistophelean distortion of visage, at the philosopher's half inarticulate drawling of speech, at his snuffy, nasal utterance of the ever-recurring "omnject" and "sumnject" yet gleams of sympathy and affection, not unmixed with sorrow, appear here and there in what he says concerning him. And indeed, although the immense fame of Coleridge is scarcely warranted by his printed performances, he was, nevertheless, worthy both of affection and homage. For whilst we pity the weakness and disease of his moral nature, under the influence of that dark and terribly enchanting weed, we cannot forget either his personal amiabilities or the great service which he rendered to letters and to society. Carlyle himself would be the last man to deny this laurel to the brows of "the poet, the philosopher, and the divine," as Charles Lamb calls him; and it is certain that the thinking of Coleridge helped to fashion Carlyle's mind, and not unlikely that it directed him to a profounder study of German writers than he had hitherto given to them.
Coleridge had already formed a school both of divinity and philosophy. He had his disciples, as well as those far-off gazers who looked upon him with amazement and trembling, not knowing what to make of the phenomenon, or whether to regard him as friend or foe to the old dispensation and the established order of things. He had written books and poems, preached Unitarian sermons, recanted, and preached philosophy and Church-of-Englandism. To the dazzled eyes of all ordinary mortals, content to chew the cud of parish sermons, and swallow, Sunday after Sunday, the articles of common belief, he seemed an eccentric comet. But a better astronomy recognized him as a fixed star, for he was unmistakable by that fitting Few whose verdict is both history and immortality.
But a greater than Coleridge, destined to assume a more commanding position, and exercise a still wider power over the minds of his age, arose in Thomas Carlyle. The son of a Scotch farmer, he had in his youth a hard student's life of it, and many severe struggles to win the education which is the groundwork of his greatness. His father was a man of keen penetration, who saw into the heart of things, and possessed such strong intellect and sterling common sense that the country people said "he always hit the nail on the head and clinched it." His mother was a good, pious woman, who loved the Bible, and Luther's "Table Talk," and Luther,—walking humbly and sincerely before God, her Heavenly Father. Carlyle was brought up in the religion of his fathers and his country; and it is easy to see in his writings how deep a root this solemn and earnest belief had struck down into his mind and character. He readily confesses how much he owes to his mother's early teaching, to her beautiful and beneficent example of goodness and holiness; and he ever speaks of her with affection and reverence. We once saw him at a friend's house take up a folio edition of the "Table Talk" alluded to, and turn over the pages with a gentle and loving hand, reading here and there his mother's favorite passages,—now speaking of the great historic value of the book, and again of its more private value, as his mother's constant companion and solace. It was touching to see this pitiless intellect, which had bruised and broken the idols of so many faiths, to which Luther himself was recommended only by his bravery and self-reliance and the grandeur of his aims,—it was touching, we say, and suggestive also of many things, to behold the strong, stern man paying homage to language whose spirit was dead to him, out of pure love for his dear mother, and veneration also for the great heart in which that spirit was once alive that fought so grand and terrible a battle. Carlyle likes to talk of Luther, and, as his "Hero-Worship" shows, loves his character. A great, fiery, angry gladiator, with something of the bully in him,—as what controversialist has not, from Luther to Erasmus, to Milton, to Carlyle himself?—a dread image-breaker, implacable as Cromwell, but higher and nobler than he, with the tenderness of a woman in his inmost heart, full of music, and glory, and spirituality, and power; his speech genuine and idiomatic, not battles only, but conquests; and all his highest, best, and gentlest thoughts robed in the divine garments of religion and poetry;—such was Luther, and as such Carlyle delights to behold him. Are they not akin? We assuredly think so. For the blood of this aristocracy refuses to mix with that of churls and bastards, and flows pure and uncontaminated from century to century, descending in all its richness and vigor from Piromis to Piromis. The ancient philosopher knew this secret well enough when he said a Parthian and a Libyan might be related, although they had no common parental blood; and that a man is not necessarily my brother because he is born of the same womb.
We find that Carlyle in his student-life manifested many of those strong moral characteristics which are the attributes of all his heroes. An indomitable courage and persistency meet us everywhere in his pages,—persistency, and also careful painstaking, and patience in sifting facts and gathering results. He disciplined himself to this end in early youth, and never allowed any study or work to conquer him. Speaking to us once in private upon the necessity of persevering effort in order to any kind of success in life, he said, "When I was a student, I resolved to make myself master of Newton's 'Principia,' and although I had not at that time knowledge enough of mathematics to make the task other than a Hercules-labor to me, yet I read and wrought unceasingly, through all obstructions and difficulties, until I had accomplished it; and no Tamerlane conqueror ever felt half so happy as I did when the terrible book lay subdued and vanquished before me." This trifling anecdote is a key to Carlyle's character. To achieve his object, he exhausts all the means within his command; never shuffles through his work, but does it faithfully and sincerely, with a man's heart and hand. This outward sincerity in the conduct of his executive faculty has its counterpart in the inmost recesses of his nature. We feel that this man and falsehood are impossible companions, and our faith in his integrity is perfect and absolute. Herein lies his power; and here also lies the power of all men who have ever moved the world. For it is in the nature of truth to conserve itself, whilst falsehood is centrifugal, and flies off into inanity and nothingness. It is by the cardinal virtue of sincerity alone—the truthfulness of deed to thought, of effect to cause—that man and nature are sustained. God is truth; and he who is most faithful to truth is not only likest to God, but is made a participator in the divine nature. For without truth there is neither power, vitality, nor permanence.
Carlyle was fortunate that he was comparatively poor, and never tempted, therefore, as a student, to dissipate his fine talents in the gay pursuits of university life. Not that there would have been any likelihood of his running into the excesses of ordinary students, but we are pleased and thankful to reflect that he suffered no kind of loss or harm in those days of his novitiate. It is one of the many consolations of poverty that it protects young men from snares and vices to which the rich are exposed; and our poor student in his garret was preserved faithful to his vocation, and laid up day by day those stores of knowledge, experience, and heavenly wisdom which he has since turned to so good account. It would be deeply interesting, if we could learn the exact position of Carlyle's mind at this time, with respect to those profound problems of human nature and destiny which have occupied the greatest men in all ages, ceaselessly and pertinaciously urging their dark and solemn questions, and refusing to depart until their riddles were in some sort solved. That Carlyle was haunted by these questions, and by the pitiless Sphinx herself who guards the portals of life and death,—that he had to meet her face to face, staring at him with her stony, passionless eyes,—that he had to grapple and struggle with her for victory,—there are proofs abundant in his writings. The details of the struggle, however, are not given us; it is the result only that we know. But it is evident that the progress of his mind from the bog-region of orthodoxy to the high realms of thought and faith was a slow proceeding,—not rolled onward as with the chariot-wheels of a fierce and sudden revolution, but gradually developed in a long series of births, growths, and deaths. The theological phraseology sticks to him, indeed, even to the present time, although he puts it to new uses; and it acquires in his hands a power and significance which it possessed only when, of old, it was representative of the divine.
Carlyle was matured in solitude. Emerson found him, in the year 1833, on the occasion of his first visit to England, living at Craigenputtock, a farm in Nithsdale, far away from all civilization, and "no one to talk to but the minister of the parish." He, good man, could make but little of his solitary friend, and must many a time have been startled out of his canonicals by the strange, alien speeches which he heard. It is a pity that this minister had not had some of the Boswell faculty in him, that he might have reported what we should all be so glad to hear. Over that period of his life, however, the curtain falls at present, to be lifted only, if ever, by Carlyle himself. Through the want of companionship, he fell back naturally upon books and his own thoughts. Here he wrote some of his finest critical essays for the reviews, and that "rag of a book," as he calls it, the "Life of Schiller." The essays show a catholic, but conservative spirit, and are full of deep thought. They exhibit also a profoundly philosophical mind, and a power of analysis which is almost unique in letters. They are pervaded likewise by an earnestness and solemnity which are perfectly Hebraic; and each performance is presented in a style decorated with all the costly jewels of imagination and fancy,—a style of far purer and more genuine English than any of his subsequent writings, which are often marred, indeed, by gross exaggerations, and still grosser violations of good taste and the chastities of language. What made these writings, however, so notable at the time, and so memorable since, was that sincerity and deep religious feeling of the writer which we have already alluded to. Here were new elements introduced into the current literature, destined to revivify it, and to propagate themselves, as by seminal vitality, in myriad minds and forms. These utterances were both prophetic and creative, and took all sincere minds captive. Dry and arid in comparison as Egyptian deserts, lay all around him the writings of his contemporaries. No living waters flowed through them; all was sand, and parch, and darkness. The contrast was immense: a living soul and a dead corpse! Since the era of the Commonwealth,—the holy, learned, intellectual, and earnest age of Taylor, Barrow, Milton, Fuller,—no such pen of fire had wrought its miracles amongst us. Writers spoke from the intellect, believed in the intellect, and divorced it from the soul and the moral nature. Science, history, ethics, religion, whenever treated of in literary form, were mechanized, and shone not with any spiritual illumination. There was abundance of lawyer-like ability,—but of genius, and its accompanying divine afflatus, little. Carlyle is full of genius; and this is evidenced not only by the fine aroma of his language, but by the depths of his insight, his wondrous historical pictures,—living cartoons of persons, events, and epochs, which he paints often in single sentences,—and the rich mosaic of truths with which every page of his writings is inlaid.
That German literature, with which at this time Carlyle had been more or less acquainted for ten years, had done much to foster and develop his genius there can be no doubt; although the book which first created a storm in his mind, and awoke him to the consciousness of his own abundant faculty, was the "Confessions" of Rousseau,—a fact which is well worthy of record and remembrance. He speaks subsequently of poor Jean Jacques with much sympathy and sorrow; not as the greatest man of his time and country, but as the sincerest,—a smitten, struggling spirit,—
"An infant crying in the night,
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry."
From Rousseau, and his strange thoughts, and wild, ardent eloquence, the transition to German literature was easy. Some one had told Carlyle that he would find in this literature what he had so long sought after,—truth and rest,—and he gladly learned the language, and addressed himself to the study of its masters; with what success all the world knows, for he has grafted their thoughts upon his own, and whoever now speaks is more or less consciously impregnated by his influence. Who the man was that sent Carlyle to them does not appear, and so far as he is concerned it is of little moment to inquire; but the fact constitutes the grand epoch in Carlyle's life, and his true history dates from that period.
It was natural that he should be deeply moved on his introduction to German literature. He went to it with an open and receptive nature, and with an earnestness of purpose which could not fail to be productive. Jean Paul, the beautiful!—the good man, and the wise teacher, with poetic stuff in him sufficient to have floated an argosy of modern writers,—this great, imaginative Jean Paul was for a long time Carlyle's idol, whom he reverently and affectionately studied. He has written a fine paper about him in his "Miscellanies," and we trace his influence not only in Carlyle's thought and sentiment, but in the very form of their utterance. He was, indeed, warped by him, at one period, clear out of his orbit, and wrote as he inspired. The dazzling sunbursts of Richter's imagination, however,—its gigantic procession of imagery, moving along in sublime and magnificent marches from earth to heaven, from heaven to earth,—the array, symbolism, and embodiment of his manifold ideas, ceased in the end to enslave, though they still captivated Carlyle's mind; and he turns from him to the thinkers who deal with God's geometry, and penetrate into the abysses of being,—to primordial Kant, and his behemoth brother, Fichte. Nor does Hegel, or Schelling, or Schlegel, or Novalis escape his pursuit, but he hunts them all down, and takes what is needful to him, out of them, as his trophy. Schiller is his king of singers, although he does not much admire his "Philosophical Letters," or his "Æsthetic Letters." But his grandest modern man is the calm and plastic Goethe, and the homage he renders him is worthy of a better and a holier idol. Goethe's "Autobiography," in so far as it relates to his early days, is a bad book; and Wordsworth might well say of the "Wilhelm Meister," that "it was full of all manner of fornication, like the crossing of flies in the air." Goethe, however, is not to be judged by any fragmentary estimate of him, but as an intellectual whole; for he represented the intellect, and grasped with his selfish and cosmical mind all the provinces of thought, learning, art, science, and government, for purely intellectual purposes. This entrance into, and breaking up of, the minds of these distinguished persons was, however, a fine discipline for Carlyle, who is fully aware of its value; and whilst holding communion with these great men, who by their genius and insight seemed to apprehend the essential truth of things at a glance, it is not wonderful that he should have been so merciless in his denunciations of the mere logic-ability of English writers, as he shows himself in the essays of that period. Logic, useful as it is, as a help to reasoning, is but the dead body of thought, as Novalis designates it, and has no place in the inspired regions where the prophets and the bards reside.
Carlyle's fame, however, had not reached its culminating point when Emerson visited him. The English are a slow, unimpressionable people, not given to hasty judgments, nor too much nor too sudden praise; requiring first to take the true altitude of a man, to measure him by severe tests; often grudging him his proper and natural advantages and talents, buffeting and abusing him in a merciless and sometimes an unreasoning and unreasonable manner, allowing him now and then, however, a sunbeam for his consolation, until at last they come to a settled understanding of him, and he is generously praised and abused into the sanctuary of their worthies. This was not the case, however, at present, with Carlyle; for although he had the highest recognitions from some of those who constitute the flower and chivalry of England, he was far better known and more widely read in America than in his own country. Emerson, then a young man, with a great destiny before him, was attracted by his writings, and carried a letter of introduction to him at Craigenputtock. "He was tall and gaunt, with a cliff-like brow; self-possessed, and holding his extraordinary powers of conversation in easy command; clinging to his northern accent with evident relish; full of lively anecdote, and with a streaming humor which floated everything he looked upon." He is the same man, in his best moods, in the year 1857, as he was in 1833. His person, except that he stoops slightly, is tall, and very little changed. He is thinner, and the once ruddy hues of his cheek are dying away like faint streaks of light in the twilight sky of a summer evening. But he is strong and hearty on the whole; although the excitement of continuous writing keeps him in a perpetual fever, deranges his liver, and makes him at times acrid and savage as a sick giant. Hence his increased pugnacity of late,—his fierceness, and angry hammering of all things sacred and profane. It is but physical and temporary, however, all this, and does not affect his healthy and serene moments. For no man lives who possesses greater kindness and affection, or more good, noble, and humane qualities. All who know him love him, although they may have much to pardon in him; not in a social or moral sense, however, but in an intellectual one. His talk is as rich as ever,—perhaps richer; for his mind has increased its stores, and the old fire of geniality still burns in his great and loving heart. Perhaps his conversation is better than his printed discourse. We have never heard anything like it. It is all alive, as if each word had a soul in it.
How characteristic is all that Emerson tells us of him in his "English Traits"!—a book, by the way, concerning which no adequate word has yet been spoken; the best book ever written upon England, and which no brave young Englishman can read, and ever after commit either a mean or a bad action. We are therefore doubly thankful to Emerson, both for what he says of England, and for what he relates of Carlyle, whose independent speech upon all subjects is one of his chief charms. He reads "Blackwood," for example, and has enjoyed many a racy, vigorous article in its pages; but it does not satisfy him, and he calls it "Sand Magazine." "Fraser's" is a little better, but not good enough to be worthy of a higher nomenclature than "Mud Magazine." Excessive praise of any one's talents drives him into admiration of the parts of his own learned pig, now wallowing in the stye. The best thing he knew about America was that there a man could have meat for his labor. He did not read Plato, and he disparaged Socrates. Mirabeau was a hero; Gibbon the splendid bridge from the old world to the new. It is interesting also to hear that "Tristram Shandy" was one of the first books he read after "Robinson Crusoe," and that Robertson's "America" was an early favorite. Rousseau's "Confessions" had discovered to him that he was not a dunce. Speaking of English pauperism, he said that government should direct poor men what to do. "Poor Irish folks come wandering over these moors. My dame makes it a rule to give to every son of Adam bread to eat, and supplies his wants to the next house. But here are thousands of acres which might give them all meat, and nobody to bid those poor Irish go to the moor and till it. They burned the stacks, and so found a way to force the rich people to attend to them." Here is the germ of his book on "Chartism." Emerson and he talk of the immortality of the soul, seated on the hill-tops near Old Criffel, and looking down "into Wordsworth's country." Carlyle had the natural disinclination of every nimble spirit to bruise itself against walls, and did not like to place himself where no step can be taken; but he was honest and true, and cognizant of the subtile links that bind ages together, and saw how every event affects all the future. "Christ died on the tree; that built Dunscore Kirk yonder; that brought you and me together. Time has only a relative existence."
Such is Emerson's account of his first visit to our author, whose eyes were already turned towards London as the heart of the world, whither he subsequently went, and where he now abides.
From Craigenputtock, with its savage rocks and moorlands, its sheepwalk solitudes, its isolation and distance from all the advantages of civil and intellectual life, to London and the living solitude of its unnumberable inhabitants, its activities, polity, and world-wide ramifications of commerce, learning, science, literature, and art, was a change of great magnitude, whose true proportions it took time to estimate. Carlyle, however, was not afraid of the huge mechanism of London life, but took to it bravely and kindly, and was soon at home amidst the everlasting whirl and clamor, the roar and thunder of its revolutions. For although a scholar, and bred in seclusion, he was also a genuine man of the world, and well acquainted with its rough ways and Plutonic wisdom. This knowledge, combined with his strong "common sense,"—as poor Dr. Beattie calls it, fighting for its supremacy with canine ferocity,—gave Carlyle high vantage-ground in his writings. He could meet the world with its own weapons, and was cunning enough at that fence, as the world was very shortly sensible. He was saved, therefore, from the contumely which vulgar minds are always ready to bestow upon saints and mystics who sit aloof from them, high enthroned amidst the truths and solemnities of God. The secluded and ascetic life of most scholars, highly favorable as it undoubtedly is to contemplation and internal development, has likewise its disadvantages, and puts them, as being undisciplined in the ways of life, at great odds, when they come to the actual and practical battle. A man should be armed at all points, and not subject himself, like good George Fox, Jacob Behmen, and other holy men, to the taunts of the mob, on account of any awkward gait, mannerism, or ignorance of men and affairs. Paul had none of these absurdities about him; but was an accomplished person, as well as a divine speaker. His doctrine of being all things to all men, that he might win souls to Christ, is, like good manners and politeness, a part of that mundane philosophy which obtains in every society, both as theory and performance; not, however, in its literal meaning, which would involve all sorts of hypocrisy and lies as its accessories, but in the sense of ability to meet all kinds of men on their own grounds and with their own enginery of warfare.
Strength, whether of mind or body, is sure to command respect, even though it be used against ourselves; for we Anglo-Saxons are all pugilists. A man, therefore, who accredits his metal by the work he accomplishes, will be readily enough heard when he comes to speak and labor upon higher platforms. This was the case with Carlyle; and when he published that new Book of Job, that weird and marvellous Pilgrim's Progress of a modern cultivated soul, the "Sartor Resartus," in "Fraser's Magazine," strange, wild, and incomprehensible as it was to most men, they did not put it contemptuously aside, but pondered it, laughed at it, trembled over it and its dread apocalyptical visions and revelations, respecting its earnestness and eloquence, although not comprehending what manner of writing it essentially was. Carlyle enjoyed the perplexity of his readers and reviewers, neither of whom, with the exception of men like Sterling, and a writer in one of the Quarterlies, seemed to know what they were talking about when they spoke of it. The criticisms upon it were exceedingly comical in many instances, and the author put the most notable of these together, and always alluded to them with roars of laughter. The book has never yet received justice at the hands of any literary tribunal. It requires, indeed, a large amount of culture to appreciate it, either as a work of art, or as a living flame-painting of spiritual struggle and revelation. In his previous writings he had insisted upon the sacredness and infinite value of the human soul,—upon the wonder and mystery of life, and its dread surroundings,—upon the divine significance of the universe, with its star pomp, and overhanging immensities,—and upon the primal necessity for each man to stand with awe and reverence in this august and solemn presence, if he would hope to receive any glimpses of its meaning, or live a true and divine life in the world; and in the "Sartor" he has embodied and illustrated this in the person and actions of his hero. He saw that religion had become secular; that it was reduced to a mere Sunday holiday and Vanity Fair, taking no vital hold of the lives of men, and radiating, therefore, none of its blessed and beautiful influences about their feet and ways; that human life itself, with all its adornments of beauty and poetry, was in danger of paralysis and death; that love and faith, truth, duty, and holiness, were fast losing their divine attributes in the common estimation, and were hurrying downwards with tears and a sad threnody into gloom and darkness. Carlyle saw all this, and knew that it was the reaction of that intellectual idolatry which brought the eighteenth century to a close; knew also that there was only one remedy which could restore men to life and health,—namely, the quickening once again of their spiritual nature. He felt, also, that it was his mission to attempt this miracle; and hence the prophetic fire and vehemence of his words. No man, and especially no earnest man, can read him without feeling himself arrested as by the grip of a giant,—without trembling before his stern questions, inculcations, and admonitions. There is a God, O Man! and not a blind chance, as governor of this world. Thy soul has infinite relations with this God, which thou canst never realize in thy being, or manifest in thy practical life, save by a devout reverence for him, and his miraculous, awful universe. This reverence, this deep, abiding religious feeling, is the only link which binds us to the Infinite. That severed, broken, or destroyed, and man is an alien and an orphan; lost to him forever is the key to all spiritual mystery, to the hieroglyph of the soul, to the symbolism of nature, of time, and of eternity. Such, as we understand it, is Carlyle's teaching. But this is not all. Man is to be man in that high sense we have spoken of, not for the mere offices of devotion and contemplation, folding his robes of immortality around him, as if God had done with him for all practical purposes, and he with God,—but for action,—action in a world which is to prove his power, his beneficence, his usefulness. That spiritual fashioning by the Great Fashioner of all things is so ordained that we ourselves may become fashioners, workers, makers. For it is given to no man to be an idle cumberer of the ground, but to dig, and sow, and plant, and reap the fruits of his labor for the garner. This is man's first duty, and the diviner he is the more divinely will he execute it.
That such a gospel as this could find utterance in the pages of the "Edinburgh Review" is curious enough; and it is scarcely less surprising that the "Sartor Resartus" should make its first appearance in the somewhat narrow and conservative pages of Fraser. Carlyle has clearly written his own struggles in this book,—his struggles and his conquests. From the "Everlasting No,"—that dreadful realm of enchantment, where all the forms of nature are frozen forever in dumb imprisonment and despair,—the great vaulted firmament no longer serene and holy and loving as God's curtain for his children's slumbers, but flaming in starry portents, and dropping down over the earth like a funeral pall; through this region of life-semblance and death-reality the lonely and aching pilgrim wanders,—questioning without reply,—wailing, broken, self-consuming,—looking with eager eyes for the waters of immortality, and finding nothing but pools of salt and Marahs of bitterness. Herein is no Calvary, no Cross-symbolism, by whose miraculous power he is relieved of his infinite burden of sorrow, starting onward with hope and joy in his heart; nor does he ever find his Calvary until the deeps of his spiritual nature are broken up and flooded with celestial light, as he knocks reverently at the portals of heaven for communion with his Father who is in heaven. Then bursts upon him a new significance from all things; he sees that the great world is but a fable of divine truth, hiding its secrets from all but the initiated and the worthy, and that faith, and trust, and worship are the cipher, which unlocks them all. He thus arrives at the plains of heaven in the region of the "Everlasting Yes." His own soul lies naked and resolved before him,—its unspeakable greatness, its meaning, faculty, and destiny. Work, and dutiful obedience to the laws of work, are the outlets of his power; and herein he finds peace and rest to his soul.
That Carlyle is not only an earnest, but a profoundly religious man, these attempted elucidations of his teachings will abundantly show. His religion, however, is very far remote from what is called religion in this day. He has no patience with second-hand beliefs,—with articles of faith ready-made for the having. Whatsoever is accepted by men because it is the tradition of their fathers, and not a deep conviction arrived at by legitimate search, is to him of no avail; and all merely historical and intellectual faith, standing outside the man, and not absorbed in the life as a vital, moving, and spiritual power, he places also amongst the chaff for burning. This world is a serious world, and human life and business are also serious matters,—not to be trifled with, nor cheated by shams and hypocrisies, but to be dealt with in all truth, soberness, and sincerity. No one can thus deal with it who is not himself possessed of these qualities, and the result of a life is the test of what virtue there is in it. False men leave no mark. It is truth alone which does the masonry of the world,—which founds empires, and builds cities, and establishes laws, commerce, and civilization. And in private life the same law abides, indestructible as God. Carlyle's teaching tends altogether in this direction; and whilst he belongs to no church and no creed, he is tolerant of all, and of everything that is heartily and unfeignedly believed in by his fellows. He is no Catholic; and yet for years he read little else than the forty volumes of the "Acta Sanctorum," and found, he says, all Christian history there, and much of profane history. Neither is he a Mahometan; but he nevertheless makes a hero of Mahomet, whom he loves for his Ishmaelite fierceness, bravery, and religious sincerity,—and because he taught deism, or the belief in one God, instead of the old polytheism, or the belief in many gods,—and gave half the East his very good book, called the Koran, for his followers to live and die by.
Whether this large catholicism, this worship of heroes, is the best of what now remains of religion on earth is certainly questionable enough; and if we regard it in no other light than merely as an idolatry of persons, there is an easy answer ready for it. But considering that religion is now so far dead that it consists in little else than formalities, and that its divine truth is no longer such to half the great world, which lies, indeed, in dire atrophy and wickedness,—and if we further consider and agree that the awakened human soul is the divinest thing on earth, and partakes of the divine nature itself, and that its manifestations are also divine in whomsoever it is embodied, we can see some apology for its adoption; inasmuch as it is the divine likeness to which reverence and homage are rendered, and not the person merely, but only so far as he is the medium of its showing. Christianity, however, will assuredly survive, although doubtless in a new form, preserving all the integrity of its message,—and be once more faith and life to men, when the present old, established, decaying cultus shall be venerated only as history.
Carlyle clings to the Christian formulary and the old Christian life in spite of himself. He is almost fanatical in his attachment to the mediæval times,—to the ancient worship, its ceremonial, music, and architecture, its monastic government, its saints and martyrs. And the reason, as he shows in the "Past and Present," is, that all this array of devotion, this pomp and ceremony, this music and painting, this gorgeous and sublime architecture, this fasting and praying, were real,—faithful manifestations of a religion which to that people was truly genuine and holy. They who built the cathedrals of Europe, adorned them with carvings, pictures, and those stately windows with their storied illuminations which at this day are often miracles of beauty and of art, were not frivolous modern conventicle-builders, but poets as grand as Milton, and sculptors whose genius might front that of Michel Angelo. It was no dead belief in a dead religion which designed and executed these matchless temples. Man and Religion were both alive in those days; and the worship of God was so profound a prostration of the inmost spirit before his majesty and glory, that the souls of the artists seem to have been inspired, and to have received their archetypes in heavenly visions. Such temples it is neither in the devotion nor the faculty of the modern Western world to conceive or construct. Carlyle knows all this, and he falls back in loving admiration upon those old times and their worthies, despising the filigree materials of which the men of to-day are for the most part composed. He revels in that picture of monastic life, also, which is preserved in the record of Jocelyn de Brakelonde. He sees all men at work there, each at his proper vocation;—and he praises them, because they fear God and do their duty. He finds them the same men, although with better and devouter hearts, as we are at this day. Time makes no difference in this verdant human nature, which shows ever the same in Catholic monasteries as in Puritan meeting-houses. We have a wise preachment, however, from that Past, to the Present, in Carlyle's book, which is one of his best efforts, and contains isolated passages which for wisdom and beauty, and chastity of utterance, he has never exceeded.
We have no space to speak here of all his books with anything like critical integrity. The greatest amongst them, however, is, perhaps, his "French Revolution, a History,"—which is no history, but a vivid painting of characters and events as they moved along in tumultuous procession. No one can appreciate this book who is not acquainted with the history in its details beforehand. Emerson once related to us a striking anecdote connected with this work, which gives us another glimpse of Carlyle's character. He had just completed, after infinite labor, one of the three volumes of his History, which he left exposed on his study table when he went to bed. Next morning he sought in vain for the manuscript, and had wellnigh concluded with Robert Hall, who was once in a similar dilemma, that the Devil had run away with it, when the servant-girl, on being questioned, confessed that she had burnt it to kindle the fire. Carlyle neither stamped nor raved, but sat down without a word and rewrote it.
In summing up the present results of Carlyle's labor, foolish men of the world and small critics have not failed to ask what it all amounts to,—what the great Demiurgus is aiming at in his weary battle of life; and the question is significant enough,—one more proof of that Egyptian darkness of vision which he is here to dispel. "He pulls down the old," say they; "but what does he give us in place of it? Why does he not strike out a system of his own? And after all, there is nothing new in him." Such is the idle talk of the day, and such are the men who either guide the people, or seek to guide them. Poor ignorant souls! who do not know the beginning of the knowledge which Carlyle teaches, nor its infinite importance to life and all its concerns:—this, namely, as we have said before, that the soul should first of all be wakened to the consciousness of its own miraculous being, that it may be penetrated by the miracles of the universe, and rise by aspiration and faith to the knowledge and worship of God, in whom are all things; that this attitude of the soul, and its accompanying wisdom, will beget the strength, purity, virtue, and truth which can alone restore order and beauty upon the earth; that all "systems," and mechanical, outward means and appliances to the end, will but increase the Babel of confusion, as things unfitted to it, and altogether extraneous and hopeless. "Systems!" It is living, truthful men we want; these will make their own systems; and let those who doubt the truth humbly watch and wait until it is manifest to them, or go on their own arid and sorrowful ways in what peace they can find there.
The catholic spirit of Carlyle's works cannot be better illustrated than by the fact that he has received letters from all sorts and conditions of men, Methodists and Shakers, Churchmen and Romanists, Deists and Infidels, all claiming his fellowship, and thinking they find their peculiarities of thought in him. This is owing partly, perhaps, to the fact that in his earlier writings he masked his sentiments both in Hebraic and Christian phraseology; and partly to the lack of vision in his admirers, who could not distinguish a new thought in an old garment. His "Cromwell" deceived not a few in this respect; and we were once asked in earnest, by a man who should have been better informed, if Carlyle was a Puritan. Whatever he may be called, or believed to be, one thing is certain concerning him: that he is a true and valiant man,—all out a man!—and that literature and the world are deeply indebted to him. His mission, like that of Jeremy Collier in a still baser age, was to purge our literature of its falsehood, to recreate it, and to make men once more believe in the divine, and live in it. So earnest a man has not appeared since the days of Luther, nor any one whose thoughts are so suggestive, germinal, and propagative. All our later writers are tinged with his thought, and he has to answer for such men as Kingsley, Newman, Froude, and others who will not answer for him, nor acknowledge him.
In private life Carlyle is amiable, and often high and beautiful in his demeanor. He talks much, and, as we have said, well; impatient, at times, of interruption, and at other times readily listening to those who have anything to say. But he hates babblers, and cant, and sham, and has no mercy for them, but sweeps them away in the whirlwind and terror of his wrath. He receives distinguished men, in the evening, at his house in Chelsea; but he rarely visits. He used occasionally to grace the saloons of Lady Blessington, in the palmy days of her life, when she attracted around her all noble and beautiful persons, who were distinguished by their attainments in literature, science, or art; but he rarely leaves his home now for such a purpose. He is at present engaged in his "Life of Frederick the Great," whom he will hardly make a hero of, and with whom, we learn, he is already very heartily disgusted. The first volume will shortly appear.
And now we must close this imperfect paper,—reserving for a future occasion some personal reminiscences of him, which may prove both interesting and illustrative.