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whom that poor eighteenth century could produce.

His Past and Present and Latter-day PampJiIets
give us his view of the politics of his own time. If
ever a man believed he was a born leader of men, it


was Carlyle; born to rule in England, to abolish
the anarchy of Parliamentary misgovernment, to
endow England with modern institutions instead of
feudal institutions, to found an industrial State in
place of a chivalrous-Christian anarchy. Not
"arms and the man" was to be the burden of the
new epic, but "tools and the man." Now, instead
of dismissing this incommensurate ambition with
cheap ridicule, let us see in what relation Carlyle
stood to his time, and then we may be able to judge
whether he was deceived or not in his self-estimate.

Towards the end of 1908 a book appeared — The
Making of Carlyle. The title is a little pretentious ;
but the book is not a bad book — a good book, In-
deed, so far as it goes; though Mr. Craig, the au-
thor, lends Carlyle his own errors. For example,
he declares that "Socialism is only a contradiction
of open competition; the sole difference is one of
label; slavery is the sure mark of both."

I venture to think that Mr. Craig is mistaken
in this; certainly he is mistaken in giving this as
Carlyle's view. I do not remember a single pas-
sage in Carlyle's writings where socialism is con-
demned as resembling open competition in being a
form of slavery. As a matter of fact, Carlyle did
not condemn "slavery" : what he condemned and
ridiculed was "the freedom of the wild jackass," as
he called it; the liberty of men to starve masterless.

Carlyle was not the first to see this side of the


truth. Goethe and Coleridge both had Insisted that
unrestrained individual liberty must lead to the worst

"The open secret" {das offene Geheimniss) of
Goethe, which Carlyle refers to over and over again
in Past and Present and Latter-day Pamphlets, is
simply the axiom of Hegel that every virtue pushed
to an extreme results in a vice which is the exact
opposite of the virtue. Open competition for the
means of livelihood must result in the despotism of
the few and the absolute enslavement of the many.
No worse tyranny has been recorded in modern
times than that which was to be seen in England in
the generation after Waterloo, from 18 15 to 1830,
when the manufacturer was establishing his awful
pre-eminence. Thousands of children were hired
in Devonshire and Cornwall, and driven across the
country in gangs like cattle to the Lancashire fac-
tories, where they were worked to death for the
enrichment of the manufacturers. The commis-
sion of doctors which "the noble Ashley," as Carlyle
called him, got appointed, declared that the first ef-
fective Factory Act of 1833 "was an Act to prevent
child murder." Carlyle, too, sneered at the Parlia-
ment which decreed that able-bodied negroes in the
West Indies should not work more than forty-five
hours a week, though allowing English children
under thirteen years of age to be worked fifty-six
hours a week.


While our so-called statesmen were going about
declaiming odes to "liberty," Carlyle saw the evils
of unrestricted liberty, and predicted a speedy and
not an honorable end to what he knew was mere
anarchy with a fine name.

Carlyle did not set limits to socialism, or State
and municipal enterprise, did not say how far so-
cialism should enter into our industrial life and
where it must stop, though his master Goethe had
done this ^ ; but he felt that there was a place for
both socialism and individualism in modern civili-
zation, and it is to his credit that he never made
one statement on the matter that was false or mis-
taken. Ruskin, his pupil, made hundreds of mis-
takes, as when he set Oxford students to build a
useless road across a swamp; but Carlyle did not
blunder or mislead.

The truth is he brought morals as a certain test
Into economics. He declared that the employer of
labor who simply worked for his own hand and
for his own enrichment was a mere buccaneer and
not a true captain of industry, and thus put his fin-
ger on the sore. It was his reliance on the moral

^In his dramatic fragment Prometheus, Epimetheus asks:
"What then is yours?"

And the answer of Prometheus is a notable example of Goethe's

"The sphere that ray activity can fill!
No more, no less!"


instincts which gave him his unique authority.
Goethe's praise of him was curiously right — "a
moral force of incalculable importance." Let us now
consider his practical proposals and see how time
has treated his pretensions.

The Empire-Builder and Reformer

Seventy years ago Carlyle saw more clearly than
our Parliamentary people of either party see to-
day. Seventy years ago he proposed to take our
surplus population in British warships and settle
them on the waste lands of the Canadian North-
West and the waste lands of South Africa and Aus-
tralia — a genial Empire-building idea, if ever there
was one, which would have settled up the Canadian
North-West Instead of allowing free-trade or free-
chance to settle up the American North-West. Had
Carlyle's advice been followed we should have had
thirty or forty millions of Englishmen by now in
Canada instead of five millions, and five or six or
ten millions of Englishmen in South Africa instead
of a few hundred thousands. There would have
been no Boer war if Carlyle's insight had been used
sixty or seventy years ago. The only thing that
saved us in the Boer war was the fact that the Cape
Dutch didn't join their kinsmen across the Vaal,
and Cape Colony was kept quiet by the little band
of English settlers who were planted somewhat after


Carlyle's plan In the Eastern Province sixty or sev-
enty years ago ; nothing else, it is said, nothing but
that stood between us and irremediable defeat.

There would be no competition between us and
Germany to-day had Carlyle been a ruler in Eng-
land; for our Empire instead of counting some fifty
millions of Englishmen would now count more than
one hundred millions. He was the first and great-
est Imperialist, just as he was the wisest social re-

It was Carlyle who made men realize that the
"condition-of-England" was the question of ques-
tions to-day; he was the first to point out that till
we had drained the foul quagmire of poverty no
high civilization would be possible to us. And Car-
lyle saw plainly enough that the quagmire could only
be drained by giving the land of England back to the
people of England. That was the first reform, he
said; all other necessary measures would follow in
its train. But the quagmire is still there — undrained,
larger and deeper now, and with worse effect on
the public health — all just as he predicted. And
the dead cat of Parliamentary debate still washes
back and forth on every tide in front of West-
minster, and is daily growing more offensive to
the sense. The wisest governor and bravest soul
born in England since Cromwell was left to fret
his heart out in obscurity as a writer in a back street


while England muddled on into ever Increasing dif-
ficulties — the blind leading the blind.

There is a memorable page in his Life of Sterling
which gives the furthest reach of his insight on prac-
tical social reform. He saw that the "intellectuals"
to-day were suffering as much as the "hands." Our
four professions — the Church, Medicine, Law, and
the Army and Navy — he remarks, were all profes-
sions In the Middle Ages. In spite of the fact that
modern life has grown ten times more complex, we
have hardly attempted to organize any of the new
sciences or arts, or "regiment" their teachers in ef-
ficient bodies. Consequently, the new intellectual
workers are all at a disadvantage and suffer under
an inferiority due to the negligence of our rulers.
In the same way he might have gone on to point
out that three-fourths of all the schools to-day in
England for higher education were there in the days
of Elizabeth, and draw the obvious moral.

When I knew Carlyle In 1877-9 ^ tried more than
once to get on this subject. I wanted to know why
he had not taken the conventional road to power,
why he had never stood for Parliament? I woke
the old lion up, but could get no answer save a con-
temptuous sniff. When I pressed him again later he
told me he had not had the time and money to waste.
I returned again and again to the charge. "You
wanted to show your Insight as a ruler," I said in
effect, "and perhaps because that was your true


metier you underrated your own literary skill and
every one else's."

"I have none," he ejaculated.

"That is delightful nonsense," I retorted, "the
first chapter of your French Revolution is one of
the finest pictures ever painted in words, and painted
deliberately with conscious artistry: chance has no
such achievement."

"Painted truthfully," he corrected, "and not ar-
tistically at all, unless truth and cunning are one —
as perhaps they are," he added as if to himself.

"And because you see that this contest with pov-
erty is the chief problem of the day, you think little
of your pictures, even of Cromwell or of Fred-
erick," I persisted.

"Ah!" he replied, "Cromwell would have taken
the problem in hand. If Cromwell had had the
East End before him he would have drained the
swamp — Greatheart, I call him."

I got nothing from him but such glimpses of
truth till I spoke once of Disraeli.

"Curious," I said, "that he was more in sym-
pathy with you than Gladstone. He at least offered
you a baronetcy. Why didn't you take it?"

"Baronetcy!" the old man barked. "The un-
speakable Jew would have given me the reward of
work, but not the work: he might have kept the
reward if he had given me the work." And he
rose to his feet. "Then I should have had some-


thing better to do than write words, words, words
for fools to read who don't even know what you
mean, who never will know. A baronetcy to me !
Why not a silk sash and a garter! I was an old
man before Disraeli even knew that I was alive,
and what I might have done ! It hardly bears think-
ing of . . ." and he turned away.

"There was Froude now: they gave him a chance
in South Africa, and he did pretty well, I believe.
Honest, kindly Froude; but they never gave me a
chance. Sometimes I wonder why? I would have
done what one man could. But I had to write in-
stead, and I wasn't made to write; I was made to
guide, perhaps, and direct; I might have done things :
who knows? It was not to be, I suppose. . . ."

Carlyle was right, I verily believe — "it hardly
bears thinking of." That England should have left
a finer intelligence than Burke, a greater force than
Chatham, to rust unused for fifty years; the best re-
forming brain of two centuries unemployed, hardly
bears thinking of. The English are suffering fro..i
not having used him, and are likely to sufier
many a long year to come. England does not even
trouble to stone the prophets; she shrugs her broad
shoulders, and when they speak too loudly puts them
out of doors or stuffs her fingers in her ears. Ger-
many used Bismarck and England did not use Car-
lyle, though he was a greater reformer and ruler.


That difference may have tremendous consequences
one day.

To sum it all up, Carlyle's gift to men was in
essence astonishingly simple : he was the best
product of English puritanism of whom we have any
knowledge. All that that belief had in it of honesty
and sincerity, of single-hearted allegiance to what
was true and right and just, came to fruit in Thomas

"All great thoughts come from the heart," wrote
Vauvenargues, and in exactly the same spirit Car-
lyle used the heart or, as he would have said, his
highest instincts as the supreme guide in human af-
fairs. And there is certainly no better guide.

It was this honesty and sincerity which gave Car-
lyle his solitary and singular literary triumph. The
clever, adroit, able man practically concerned with
his own rewards and his own successes, the "hero"
of the school of Hume and other such historians,
was abhorrent to Carlyle. All great men, he felt,
were absolutely in earnest, sincere to the soul, filled
iji^ith the spirit which urges man to ever higher ac-
complishment. No Mahomet, no Cromwell, no
Goethe is thinkable without this elemental force. All
Carlyle's heroes were seers like the prophets of old,
men who had a vision of the truth; men through
whom, as he phrased it, God Himself had spoken.
And so he taught a fat, smug grocer-folk what he-
roes were and how useful they were (if we must


measure stars by their candle-power) and he showed
a crowd that admired Crystal Palaces what a true
temple was like, a temple not made with hands —
eternal in the heavens. Carlyle was, indeed, a moral
force of incalculable value.

His literary power all comes from his practical
insight into facts and his astounding knowledge of
men. He has left us a splendid gallery of realistic
portrait-sketches. Who that glances at them can
ever forget his Frederick, or his Mirabeau, or his
Robespierre, or, for that matter, Mme. Roland, or
Marat, or Danton, or a hundred other inimitable
photographs pinned to life, so to speak, by touches
of humorous exaggeration.

The Puritan's Limitations

On all the main issues, then, of modern politics
the great Puritan was in the right; his insight has
been justified by the event: he was at once the best
guiding and governing force ever seen in England.
We must now try to realize his limitations and short-
comings. Strange to say, he was typical of Puri-
tanism also in this; his blind side was the blind side
of the whole movement, and supplies the reason why
the movement failed to satisfy modern needs and
why it is that to-day Puritanism is universally dis-

Carlyle had hardly any sense of sex or stirring


of passion. He was even more devoid of bodily
desire than Swift or Ruskin. This lack brought him
to misery and his life to wreck. Mr. Craig points
out that he never shared his wife's natural longing
for children; he could not even understand it. He
had not enough sensuality to comprehend his wife's
ordinary needs and so he treated her harshly with-
out realizing his own blindness till it was too late
even for atonement.

A passage in his Heroes and Hero-JForship first
put me on the track. Speaking of Dante he ad-
mitted that the great Florentine was "gey ill to live
with" and nevertheless, defended him. Men like
Dante, he says, of keen passionate sensibilities, and
conscious of the importance of their mission must
always be difficult to live with. It was as if Carlyle
had been justifying his own conduct.

One day we were walking together in Hyde Park:
as we neared Hyde Park Corner It began to rain:
naturally, I quickened my pace a little. Suddenly,
to my utter astonishment, Carlyle stopped, and tak-
ing off his soft hat stood there in the rain with his
grey head bowed. For a moment I was lost in
wonder: then I remembered his picture of old Dr.
Johnson standing bareheaded before his father's
shop in Lichfield half in piety, half in remorse. I
guessed that Carlyle was thinking of his wife, and
then it flashed across me that it was here in Hyde
Park she had died In her carriage while he was in


Edinburgh. When he put on his hat and walked
on, the tears were running down his face.

I can't remember how the talk began and my
notes do not help me much. At the time I put down
simply: "Johnson's penance and piety; remorse and
repentance not good, harmful; Carlyle's excessive.
Bit by bit he told the incredible story."

In brief the story was that he admired his wife
beyond all other women, loved her and her alone
all his life; but had never consummated the mar-
riage or lived with her as a wife.

"The body part seemed so little to me," he
pleaded: "I had no idea it could mean much to her.
I should have thought it degrading her to imagine
that. Ay di me, ay di me. . . . Quarter of a cen-
tury passed before I found out how wrong I was,
how mistaken, how criminally blind. ... It was the
doctor told me, and then it was too late for anything
but repentance. My poor love ! She had never told
me anything; never even hinted anything; was too
proud, and I, blind, blind. . . . When I blamed
myself to her I saw the doctor was right; she had
suffered and I — ah God, how blind we mortals can
be; how blind!

"It was as if I had been operated for cataract
and sight had been given me suddenly. I saw the
meaning of a hundred things which had passed me
unexplained; I loved her so that I realized even
wishes unconfessed to herself, realized that she


would have been happier married to Irving, and that
she had felt this. Speaking once of his pretended
gift of tongues, she said 'he would have had no such
gift had I married him.' I understood, at length,
that she had wanted him. Physically he was splen-
did, and she had felt his attraction. ... I loved her
so, I could have given her to him, and I did nothing
but Injure her and maim her life, the darling! who
did everything for me and was everything to me for
forty years. . . .

"And the worst of it all Is, there is no other life
in which to atone to her — my puir girlie ! It's done,
and God himself cannot undo it. My girl, my puir
girl ! . . . Man, man, It's awful, awful to hurt your
dearest blindly, awful!" and the tears rained down
the haggard old face and the eyes stared out In utter

I comforted him as best I could, told him that In
his remorse he exaggerated the wrong and the in-
jury, that, after all, he had been by far the best
husband Mrs. Carlyle could have had, that faith-
lessness went with passion, that she might have suf-
fered more with any other man, and that she could
never have known with any other such perfect com-
panionship of spirit, such intimacy of soul, but he
shook his head; he had always loved the truth and
now against himself he would not blink it. "Ma puir
girlie!" was his cry and "blind, blind!" his ceaseless


self-reproach. He had put all his pride in his in-
sight, and it was his insight that had failed him.

Years later I told the fact at a dinner at the Gar-
rick Club, and a man I did not then know confirmed
it across the table ; told me he was the doctor in ques-
tion and afterwards in private gave me the other
side of the story from what Mrs. Carlyle had told
him. It was Sir Richard Quayne/ I believe. Some
time or other I shall probably tell what he told me
that night.

Carlyle's confession to me broke down all bar-
riers between us. Whenever we met afterwards he
treated me with infinite consideration and kindness.
But all that is another story, and not to be told

What concerns us now is the fact that this bodily
disability of Carlyle explains most of his shortcom-
ings as literary critic and writer, and in especial his
blindness to what one might call the aesthetic side
of life. His eyes and heart were closed to beauty;
he never saw that House Beautiful of Art which to-
day occupies the place in life formerly held by church
and conventicle. He had nothing but contempt for

*The name in my memory is "Dicky Quain"; but I only noted
"the doctor" and one letter after it which is illegible. I have
since been enabled to date this dinner in 1887 and to corroborate
the chief particulars of my account by the memory of my host
that evening. Sir Charles Jessel.


poetry; "jingles" he called it; would never admit
its high significance. Pictures, too, except of real
events, he took little interest in, and studies of the
nude human figure seemed to him indecent and dis-
graceful: he had no ear for music or understanding
of its universal passionate appeal. Had he been
given despotic power this is where he must have
failed; he would have starved the senses and ne-
glected their dramatic and vital uses.

The curious part of the matter is that though he
saw clearly, perhaps all too vividly, how his short-
coming had led him astray in the most intimate per-
sonal relation, he never seemed to suspect that the
same physical disability must necessarily blind him
to the artistic side of life and make him an absurd
judge of its value and importance. Hence arose all
or nearly all his weird literary misjudglngs. He
said of Wordsworth:

"A small genuine man; nothing perhaps is sadder
than the unbounded laudation of such a man."

Keats to him was a "dead jackass perfumed with
rose-water." He even went so far as to declare to
me once that nothing but brains, sheer insight
counted, and that Shakespeare's brains, apart from
his poetic and literary gift, were no better than his
own. I ventured on this matter pointedly to dis-
agree with him. It seems to me that Shakespeare
and Bacon, too, have shown better brains.


After all the tree is judged by its fruits and the
writer by his works : whatever virtues he possesses
and whatever failings will certainly be found there
for all men to see. And it must be admitted, I'm
afraid, that Carlyle's works are not at all com-
mensurate with his genius, and represent but poorly
the fifty years of unremitting toil he put into them.
His slightest writings are the most read, and the
most readable — the Cromwell, Heroes and Hero-
Worship, Sartor Resarttis, and The French Revolu-
tion. His most ambitious work, The Life of Fred-
erick, is a colossal failure : he has buried his hero
under the monument he built in memory of him.
Had his relations to life been happier he must have
known that no story without love in it could possibly
hold the interest of men for a dozen volumes. As it
is, the gold of a noble spirit is all dispersed and lost
in the gigantic earth-heap of a mole-like industry.

If he had devoted the eleven years wasted on his
Frederick to the story of Carlyle and his Contem-
poraries, if he had used his superb gift of realistic
portraiture on the men and women whom he knew
personally, he would surely, I believe, have given
us a dozen pages for our English Bible. It is not
quantity we want, but qualit}^; not information but
Inspiration. The last chapter of Ecclesiastes, the
few verses of Paul on Charity outweigh a library.
Carlyle's outlook on life was sombre and sad, never


joyous: his temper desperate or despairing, not hope-
ful: I find the explanation In his physical weakness
which he was accustomed to speak of as merely dys-

All Carlyle's faults as a man of letters are sins
against the spirit of Beauty, and they are all to be
found writ large in Puritanism. Puritanism as we
know defaced the churches, tore down the images
of saints, and shut the theatres. Puritanism it was
that destroyed the gallery of paintings which had
been collected by Charles I, and ordered that "all
pictures containing any representation of the Second
person of Trinity or of the Virgin" should be "forth-
with burnt."

Carlyle's impotence made everything about him
clear to me. Ever afterwards I saw him as a sort
of Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant. He stood to me
for Puritanism Itself and explained It, In Its strength
and In its fatal weakness, as no one else could. Pa-
ganism died because It neglected the soul, and the
claims of the soul ; Puritanism died because It scorned
the body and the claims of the body.

But it was honest and sincere even when It went
in bhnkers, and intensely In earnest, and In England
it produced two great men as witnesses to Its virtue,
Cromwell and Carlyle. England used Cromwell,
but did not use Carlyle, yet in spite of his physical
dlsablhty Carlyle was greater than the ruler whom


Milton called "our chief of men" and by reason of
his bodily disability he was the more perfect repre-
sentative of English Puritanism.

"Gross beginnet, ihr Titanen; aber leiten
Zu dem ewig Guten, ewig Schonen,
1st der Gotter Werk; die lasst gewahren!"


IT was in 1889 or 1890 that the late Sir Charles
Dilke gave me a letter to Renan. "You should
call on him in the College de France," he said; "he
talks wonderfully; if he takes to you, you'll have a

I sent the letter of introduction with a note, and
called on Renan a day or two afterwards by ap-
pointment. I was shown into a very ordinary room,
a room of the French middle class, and in a mo-

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Online LibraryFrank HarrisContemporary portraits → online text (page 2 of 20)