Thomas Carlyle.

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Founded 1906 by J. M. Dent (d. 1926)
Edited by Ernest Rhys (d. 1946)





THOMAS CARLYLE, born in 1795 at Ecclefechan, the son of a
stonemason. Educated at Edinburgh University. Schoolmaster for
a short time, but decided on a literary career, visiting Paris
and London. Retired in 1828 to Dumfriesshire to write. In 1834
moved to Cheyne Row, Chelsea, and died there in 1881.






_All rights reserved
Made in Great Britain
at The Temple Press Letchworth
J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Aldine House Bedford St. London
First published in this edition 1908
Last reprinted 1948_


One of the most vital and pregnant books in our modern literature,
"Sartor Resartus" is also, in structure and form, one of the most
daringly original. It defies exact classification. It is not a
philosophic treatise. It is not an autobiography. It is not a romance.
Yet in a sense it is all these combined. Its underlying purpose is to
expound in broad outline certain ideas which lay at the root of
Carlyle's whole reading of life. But he does not elect to set these
forth in regular methodic fashion, after the manner of one writing a
systematic essay. He presents his philosophy in dramatic form and in a
picturesque human setting. He invents a certain Herr Diogenes
Teufelsdröckh, an erudite German professor of "Allerley-Wissenschaft,"
or Things in General, in the University of Weissnichtwo, of whose
colossal work, "Die Kleider, Ihr Werden und Wirken" (On Clothes: Their
Origin and Influence), he represents himself as being only the student
and interpreter. With infinite humour he explains how this prodigious
volume came into his hands; how he was struck with amazement by its
encyclopædic learning, and the depth and suggestiveness of its
thought; and how he determined that it was his special mission to
introduce its ideas to the British public. But how was this to be
done? As a mere bald abstract of the original would never do, the
would-be apostle was for a time in despair. But at length the happy
thought occurred to him of combining a condensed statement of the main
principles of the new philosophy with some account of the
philosopher's life and character. Thus the work took the form of a
"Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh," and as such it was offered
to the world. Here, of course, we reach the explanation of its
fantastic title - "Sartor Resartus," or the Tailor Patched: the tailor
being the great German "Clothes-philosopher," and the patching being
done by Carlyle as his English editor.

As a piece of literary mystification, Teufelsdröckh and his treatise
enjoyed a measure of the success which nearly twenty years before had
been scored by Dietrich Knickerbocker and his "History of New York."
The question of the professor's existence was solemnly discussed in at
least one important review; Carlyle was gravely taken to task for
attempting to mislead the public; a certain interested reader actually
wrote to inquire where the original German work was to be obtained.
All this seems to us surprising; the more so as we are now able to
understand the purposes which Carlyle had in view in devising his
dramatic scheme. In the first place, by associating the
clothes-philosophy with the personality of its alleged author (himself
one of Carlyle's splendidly living pieces of characterisation), and by
presenting it as the product and expression of his spiritual
experiences, he made the mystical creed intensely human. Stated in the
abstract, it would have been a mere blank _-ism_; developed in its
intimate relations with Teufelsdröckh's character and career, it is
filled with the hot life-blood of natural thought and feeling.
Secondly, by fathering his own philosophy upon a German professor
Carlyle indicates his own indebtedness to German idealism, the
ultimate source of much of his own teaching. Yet, deep as that
indebtedness was, and anxious as he might be to acknowledge it, he was
as a humourist keenly alive to certain glaring defects of the great
German writers; to their frequent tendency to lose themselves among
the mere minutiæ of erudition, and thus to confuse the unimportant and
the important; to their habit of rising at times into the clouds
rather than above the clouds, and of there disporting themselves in
regions "close-bordering on the impalpable inane;" to their too
conspicuous want of order, system, perspective. The dramatic machinery
of "Sartor Resartus" is therefore turned to a third service. It is
made the vehicle of much good-humoured satire upon these and similar
characteristics of Teutonic scholarship and speculation; as in the
many amusing criticisms which are passed upon Teufelsdröckh's volume
as a sort of "mad banquet wherein all courses have been confounded;"
in the burlesque parade of the professor's "omniverous reading"
(_e.g._, Book I, Chap. V); and in the whole amazing episode of the
"six considerable paper bags," out of the chaotic contents of which
the distracted editor in search of "biographic documents" has to make
what he can. Nor is this quite all. Teufelsdröckh is further utilised
as the mouthpiece of some of Carlyle's more extravagant speculations
and of such ideas as he wished to throw out as it were tentatively,
and without himself being necessarily held responsible for them. There
is thus much point as well as humour in those sudden turns of the
argument, when, after some exceptionally wild outburst on his
_eidolon's_ part, Carlyle sedately reproves him for the fantastic
character or dangerous tendency of his opinions.

It is in connection with the dramatic scheme of the book that the
third element, that of autobiography, enters into its texture, for the
story of Teufelsdröckh is very largely a transfigured version of the
story of Carlyle himself. In saying this, I am not of course thinking
mainly of Carlyle's outer life. This, indeed, is in places freely
drawn upon, as the outer lives of Dickens, George Eliot, Tolstoi are
drawn upon in "David Copperfield," "The Mill on the Floss," "Anna
Karénina." Entepfuhl is only another name for Ecclefechan; the picture
of little Diogenes eating his supper out-of-doors on fine summer
evenings, and meanwhile watching the sun sink behind the western
hills, is clearly a loving transcript from memory; even the idyllic
episode of Blumine may be safely traced back to a romance of Carlyle's
youth. But to investigate the connection at these and other points
between the mere externals of the two careers is a matter of little
more than curious interest. It is because it incorporates and
reproduces so much of Carlyle's inner history that the story of
Teufelsdröckh is really important. Spiritually considered, the whole
narrative is, in fact, a "symbolic myth," in which the writer's
personal trials and conflicts are depicted with little change save in
setting and accessories. Like Teufelsdröckh, Carlyle while still a
young man had broken away from the old religious creed in which he had
been bred; like Teufelsdröckh, he had thereupon passed into the
"howling desert of infidelity;" like Teufelsdröckh, he had known all
the agonies and anguish of a long period of blank scepticism and
insurgent despair, during which, turn whither he would, life responded
with nothing but negations to every question and appeal. And as to
Teufelsdröckh in the Rue Saint-Thomas de l'Enfer in Paris, so to
Carlyle in Leith Walk, Edinburgh, there had come a moment of sudden
and marvellous illumination, a mystical crisis from which he had
emerged a different man. The parallelism is so obvious and so close as
to leave no room for doubt that the story of Teufelsdröckh is
substantially a piece of spiritual autobiography.

This admitted, the question arises whether Carlyle had any purpose,
beyond that of self-expression, in thus utilising his own experiences
for the human setting of his philosophy. It seems evident that he had.
As he conceived them, these experiences possessed far more than a
merely personal interest and meaning. He wrote of himself because he
saw in himself a type of his restless and much-troubled epoch; because
he knew that in a broad sense his history was the history of thousands
of other young men in the generation to which he belonged. The age
which followed upon the vast upheaval of the Revolution was one of
widespread turmoil and perplexity. Men felt themselves to be wandering
aimlessly "between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be
born." The old order had collapsed in shapeless ruin; but the promised
Utopia had not been realised to take its place. In many directions the
forces of reaction were at work. Religion, striving to maintain itself
upon the dogmatic creeds of the past, was rapidly petrifying into a
mere "dead Letter of Religion," from which all the living spirit had
fled; and those who could not nourish themselves on hearsay and
inherited formula knew not where to look for the renewal of faith and
hope. The generous ardour and the splendid humanitarian enthusiasms
which had been stirred by the opening phases of the revolutionary
movement, had now ebbed away; revulsion had followed, and with it the
mood of disillusion and despair. The spirit of doubt and denial was
felt as a paralysing power in every department of life and thought,
and the shadow of unbelief lay heavy on many hearts.

It was for the men of this "sad time" that Carlyle wrote
Teufelsdröckh's story; and he wrote it not merely to depict the
far-reaching consequences of their pessimism but also to make plain to
them their true path out of it. He desired to exhibit to his age the
real nature of the strange malady from which it was suffering in order
that he might thereupon proclaim the remedy.

What, then, is the moral significance of Carlyle's "symbolic myth"?
What are the supreme lessons which he uses it to convey?

We must begin by understanding his diagnosis. For him, all the evils
of the time could ultimately be traced back to their common source in
what may be briefly described as its want of real religion. Of churches
and creeds there were plenty; of living faith little or nothing was
left. Men had lost all vital sense of God in the world; and because of
this, they had taken up a fatally wrong attitude to life. They looked
at it wholly from the mechanical point of view, and judged it by
merely utilitarian standards. The "body-politic" was no longer
inspired by any "soul-politic." Men, individually and in the mass,
cared only for material prosperity, sought only outward success, made
the pursuit of happiness the end and aim of their being. The divine
meaning of virtue, the infinite nature of duty, had been forgotten,
and morality had been turned into a sort of ledger-philosophy, based
upon calculations of profit and loss.

It was thus that Carlyle read the signs of the times. In such
circumstances what was needed? Nothing less than a spiritual rebirth.
Men must abandon their wrong attitude to life, and take up the right
attitude. Everything hinged on that. And that they might take up this
right attitude it was necessary first that they should be convinced of
life's essential spirituality, and cease in consequence to seek its
meaning and test its value on the plane of merely material things.

Carlyle thus throws passionate emphasis upon religion as the only
saving power. But it must be noted that he does not suggest a return
to any of the dogmatic creeds of the past. Though once the expression
of a living faith, these were now for him mere lifeless formulas. Nor
has he any new dogmatic creed to offer in their place. That mystical
crisis which had broken the spell of the Everlasting No was in a
strict sense - he uses the word himself - a conversion. But it was not a
conversion in the theological sense, for it did not involve the
acceptance of any specific articles of faith. It was simply a complete
change of front; the protest of his whole nature, in a suddenly
aroused mood of indignation and defiance, against the "spirit which
denies;" the assertion of his manhood against the cowardice which had
so long kept him trembling and whimpering before the facts of
existence. But from that change of front came presently the vivid
apprehension of certain great truths which his former mood had thus
far concealed from him; and in these truths he found the secret of
that right attitude to life in the discovery of which lay men's only
hope of salvation from the unrest and melancholy of their time.

From this point of view the burden of Carlyle's message to his
generation will be readily understood. Men were going wrong because
they started with the thought of self, and made satisfaction of self
the law of their lives; because, in consequence, they regarded
happiness as the chief object of pursuit and the one thing worth
striving for; because, under the influence of the current rationalism,
they tried to escape from their spiritual perplexities through logic
and speculation. They had, therefore, to set themselves right upon all
these matters. They had to learn that not self-satisfaction but
self-renunciation is the key to life and its true law; that we have no
prescriptive claim to happiness and no business to quarrel with the
universe if it withholds it from us; that the way out of pessimism
lies, not through reason, but through honest work, steady adherence to
the simple duty which each day brings, fidelity to the right as we
know it. Such, in broad statement, is the substance of Carlyle's
religious convictions and moral teaching. Like Kant he takes his stand
on the principles of ethical idealism. God is to be sought, not
through speculation, or syllogism, or the learning of the schools, but
through the moral nature. It is the soul in action that alone finds
God. And the finding of God means, not happiness as the world
conceives it, but blessedness, or the inward peace which passes

The connection between the transfigured autobiography which serves to
introduce the directly didactic element of the book and that element
itself, will now be clear. Stripped of its whimsicalities of
phraseology and its humorous extravagances, Carlyle's philosophy
stands revealed as essentially idealistic in character. Spirit is the
only reality. Visible things are but the manifestations, emblems, or
clothings of spirit. The material universe itself is only the vesture
or symbol of God; man is a spirit, though he wears the wrappings of
the flesh; and in everything that man creates for himself he merely
attempts to give body or expression to thought. The science of
Carlyle's time was busy proclaiming that, since the universe is
governed by natural laws, miracles are impossible and the supernatural
is a myth. Carlyle replies that the natural laws are themselves only
the manifestation of Spiritual Force, and that thus miracle is
everywhere and all nature supernatural. We, who are the creatures of
time and space, can indeed apprehend the Absolute only when He weaves
about Him the visible garments of time and space. Thus God reveals
Himself to sense through symbols. But it is as we regard these symbols
in one or other of two possible ways that we class ourselves with the
foolish man or with the wise. The foolish man sees only the symbol,
thinks it exists for itself, takes it for the ultimate fact, and
therefore rests in it. The wise man sees the symbol, knows that it is
only a symbol, and penetrates into it for the ultimate fact or
spiritual reality which it symbolises.

Remote as such a doctrine may at first sight seem to be from the
questions with which men are commonly concerned, it has none the less
many important practical bearings. Since "all Forms whereby Spirit
manifests itself to sense, whether outwardly or in the imagination,
are Clothes," civilisation and everything belonging to it - our
languages, literatures and arts, our governments, social machinery and
institutions, our philosophies, creeds and rituals - are but so many
vestments woven for itself by the shaping spirit of man. Indispensable
these vestments are; for without them society would collapse in
anarchy, and humanity sink to the level of the brute. Yet here again
we must emphasise the difference, already noted, between the foolish
man and the wise. The foolish man once more assumes that the vestments
exist for themselves, as ultimate facts, and that they have a value of
their own. He, therefore, confuses the life with its clothing; is even
willing to sacrifice the life for the sake of the clothing. The wise
man, while he, too, recognises the necessity of the vestments, and
indeed insists upon it, knows that they have no independent
importance, that they derive all their potency and value from the
inner reality which they were fashioned to represent and embody, but
which they often misrepresent and obscure. He therefore never confuses
the life with the clothing, and well understands how often the
clothing has to be sacrificed for the sake of the life. Thus, while
the utility of clothes has to be recognised to the full, it is still
of the essence of wisdom to press hard upon the vital distinction
between the outer wrappings of man's life and that inner reality which
they more or less adequately enfold.

The use which Carlyle makes of this doctrine in his interpretation of
the religious history of the world and of the crisis in thought of his
own day, will be anticipated. All dogmas, forms and ceremonials, he
teaches, are but religious vestments - symbols expressing man's deepest
sense of the divine mystery of the universe and the hunger and thirst
of his soul for God. It is in response to the imperative necessities
of his nature that he moulds for himself these outward emblems of his
ideas and aspirations. Yet they are only emblems; and since, like all
other human things, they partake of the ignorance and weakness of the
times in which they were framed, it is inevitable that with the growth
of knowledge and the expansion of thought they must presently be
outgrown. When this happens, there follows what Carlyle calls the
"superannuation of symbols." Men wake to the fact that the creeds and
formulas which have come down to them from the past are no longer
living for them, no longer what they need for the embodiment of their
spiritual life. Two mistakes are now possible, and these are, indeed,
commonly made together. On the one hand, men may try to ignore the
growth of knowledge and the expansion of thought, and to cling to the
outgrown symbols as things having in themselves some mysterious
sanctity and power. On the other hand, they may recklessly endeavour
to cast aside the reality symbolised along with the discredited symbol
itself. Given such a condition of things, and we shall find religion
degenerating into formalism and the worship of the dead letter, and,
side by side with this, the impatient rejection of all religion, and
the spread of a crude and debasing materialism. Religious symbols,
then, must be renewed. But their renewal can come only from within.
Form, to have any real value, must grow out of life and be fed by it.

The revolutionary quality in the philosophy of "Sartor Resartus"
cannot, of course, be overlooked. Everything that man has woven for
himself must in time become merely "old clothes"; the work of his
thought, like that of his hands, is perishable; his very highest
symbols have no permanence or finality. Carlyle cuts down to the
essential reality beneath all shows and forms and emblems: witness his
amazing vision of a naked House of Lords. Under his penetrating gaze
the "earthly hulls and garnitures" of existence melt away. Men's habit
is to rest in symbols. But to rest in symbols is fatal, since they are
at best but the "adventitious wrappages" of life. Clothes "have made
men of us" - true; but now, so great has their influence become that
"they are threatening to make clothes-screens of us." Hence "the
beginning of all wisdom is to look fixedly on clothes ... till they
become transparent." The logical tendency of such teaching may seem to
be towards utter nihilism. But that tendency is checked and qualified
by the strong conservative element which is everywhere prominent in
Carlyle's thought. Upon the absolute need of "clothes" the stress is
again and again thrown. They "have made men of us." By symbols alone
man lives and works. By symbols alone can he make life and work
effective. Thus even the world's "old clothes" - its discarded forms
and creeds - should be treated with the reverence due to whatever has
once played a part in human development. Thus, moreover, we must be on
our guard against the impetuosity of the revolutionary spirit and all
rash rupture with the past. To cast old clothes aside before new
clothes are ready - this does not mean progress, but sansculottism, or
a lapse into nakedness and anarchy.

* * * * *

The lectures "On Heroes and Hero-Worship," here printed with "Sartor
Resartus," contain little more than an amplification, through a series
of brilliant character-studies, of those fundamental ideas of history
which had already figured among Teufelsdröckh's social speculations.
Simple in statement and clear in doctrine, this second work needs no
formal introduction. It may, however, be of service just to indicate
one or two points at which, apart from its set theses, it expresses or
implies certain underlying principles of all Carlyle's thought.

In the first place, his philosophy of history rests entirely on "the
great man theory." "Universal History, the history of what man has
accomplished in the world," is for him "at bottom the History of the
Great Men who have worked here." This conception, of course, brings
him into sharp conflict with that scientific view of history which was
already gaining ground when "Heroes and Hero-Worship" was written, and
which since then has become even more popular under the powerful
influence of the modern doctrine of evolution. A scientific historian,
like Buckle or Taine, seeks to explain all changes in thought, all
movements in politics and society, in terms of general laws; his habit
is, therefore, to subordinate, if not quite to eliminate, the
individual; the greatest man is treated as in a large measure the
product and expression of the "spirit of the time." For Carlyle,
individuality is everything. While, as he is bound to admit, "no one
works save under conditions," external circumstances and influences
count little. The Great Man is supreme. He is not the creature of his
age, but its creator; not its servant, but its master. "The History of
the World is but the Biography of Great Men."

Anti-scientific in his reading of history, Carlyle is also
anti-democratic in the practical lessons he deduces from it. He
teaches that our right relations with the Hero are discipular
relations; that we should honestly acknowledge his superiority, look
up to him, reverence him. Thus on the personal side he challenges that
tendency to "level down" which he believed to be one alarming result
of the fast-spreading spirit of the new democracy. But more than this.
He insists that the one hope for our distracted world of to-day lies
in the strength and wisdom of the few, not in the organised unwisdom
of the many. The masses of the people can never be safely trusted to
solve for themselves the intricate problems of their own welfare. They
need to be guided, disciplined, at times even driven, by those great
leaders of men, who see more deeply than they see into the reality of
things, and know much better than they can ever know what is good for
them, and how that good is to be attained. Political machinery, in
which the modern world had come to put so much faith, is only another

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 1 of 43)