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Thomas Carlyle.

Sartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history online

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seems to have lived in a most affectionate, peaceable, wholesome way
with this wedded benefactress; loving her truly, and her alone. It
goes greatly against the impostor theory, the fact that he lived in
this entirely unexceptionable, entirely quiet and commonplace way,
till the heat of his years was done. He was forty before he talked of
any mission from Heaven. All his irregularities, real and supposed,
date from after his fiftieth year, when the good Kadijah died. All his
'ambition,' seemingly, had been, hitherto, to live an honest life; his
'fame,' the mere good opinion of neighbours that knew him, had been
sufficient hitherto. Not till he was already getting old, the prurient
heat of his life all burnt out, and _peace_ growing to be the chief
thing this world could give him, did he start on the 'career of
ambition;' and, belying all his past character and existence, set-up
as a wretched empty charlatan to acquire what he could now no longer
enjoy! For my share, I have no faith whatever in that.

Ah no: this deep-hearted Son of the Wilderness, with his beaming black
eyes and open social deep soul, had other thoughts in him than
ambition. A silent great soul; he was one of those who cannot _but_ be
in earnest; whom Nature herself has appointed to be sincere. While
others walk in formulas and hearsays, contented enough to dwell there,
this man could not screen himself in formulas; he was alone with his
own soul and the reality of things. The great Mystery of Existence, as
I said, glared-in upon him, with its terrors, with its splendours; no
hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, "Here am I!" Such
_sincerity_, as we named it, has in very truth something of divine.
The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature's own Heart. Men
do and must listen to that as to nothing else; - all else is wind in
comparison. From of old, a thousand thoughts, in his pilgrimings and
wanderings, had been in this man: What am I? What _is_ this
unfathomable Thing I live in, which men name Universe? What is Life;
what is Death? What am I to believe? What am I to do? The grim rocks
of Mount Hara, of Mount Sinai, the stern sandy solitudes answered not.
The great Heaven rolling silent overhead, with its blue-glancing
stars, answered not. There was no answer. The man's own soul, and what
of God's inspiration dwelt there, had to answer!

It is the thing which all men have to ask themselves; which we too have
to ask, and answer. This wild man felt it to be of _infinite_ moment;
all other things of no moment whatever in comparison. The jargon of
argumentative Greek Sects, vague traditions of Jews, the stupid routine
of Arab Idolatry, there was no answer in these. A Hero, as I repeat,
has this first distinction, which indeed we may call first and last,
the Alpha and Omega of his whole Heroism, That he looks through the
shows of things into _things_. Use and wont, respectable hearsay,
respectable formula: all these are good, or are not good. There is
something behind and beyond all these, which all these must correspond
with, be the image of, or they are - _Idolatries_: 'bits of black wood
pretending to be God;' to the earnest soul a mockery and abomination.
Idolatries never so gilded, waited on by heads of the Koreish, will do
nothing for this man. Though all men walk by them, what good is it? The
great Reality stands glaring there upon _him_. He there has to answer
it, or perish miserably. Now, even now, or else through all Eternity
never! Answer it; _thou_ must find an answer. - Ambition? What could all
Arabia do for this man; with the crown of Greek Heraclius, of Persian
Chosroes, and all crowns in the Earth; - what could they all do for him?
It was not of the Earth he wanted to hear tell; it was of the Heaven
above and of the Hell beneath. All crowns and sovereignties whatsoever,
where would _they_ in a few brief years be? To be Sheik of Mecca or
Arabia, and have a bit of gilt wood put into your hand, - will that be
one's salvation? I decidedly think, not. We will leave it altogether,
this impostor hypothesis, as not credible; not very tolerable even,
worthy chiefly of dismissal by us.

Mahomet had been wont to retire yearly, during the month Ramadhan,
into solitude and silence; as indeed was the Arab custom; a
praiseworthy custom, which such a man, above all, would find natural
and useful. Communing with his own heart, in the silence of the
mountains; himself silent; open to the 'small still voices:' it was a
right natural custom! Mahomet was in his fortieth year, when having
withdrawn to a cavern in Mount Hara, near Mecca, during this Ramadhan,
to pass the month in prayer, and meditation on those great questions,
he one day told his wife Kadijah, who with his household was with him
or near him this year, That by the unspeakable special favour of
Heaven he had now found it all out; was in doubt and darkness no
longer, but saw it all. That all these Idols and Formulas were
nothing, miserable bits of wood; that there was One God in and over
all; and we must leave all Idols, and look to Him. That God is great;
and that there is nothing else great! He is the Reality. Wooden Idols
are not real; He is real. He made us at first, sustains us yet; we and
all things are but the shadow of Him; a transitory garment veiling the
Eternal Splendour. '_Allah akbar_, God is great;' - and then also
'_Islam_,' That we must _submit_ to God. That our whole strength lies
in resigned submission to Him, whatsoever He do to us. For this world,
and for the other! The thing He sends to us, were it death and worse
than death, shall be good, shall be best; we resign ourselves to
God. - 'If this be _Islam_,' says Goethe, 'do we not all live in
_Islam_?' Yes, all of us that have any moral life; we all live so. It
has ever been held the highest wisdom for a man not merely to submit
to Necessity, - Necessity will make him submit, - but to know and
believe well that the stern thing which Necessity had ordered was the
wisest, the best, the thing wanted there. To cease his frantic
pretension of scanning this great God's-World in his small fraction of
a brain; to know that it _had_ verily, though deep beyond his
soundings, a Just Law, that the soul of it was Good; - that his part in
it was to conform to the Law of the Whole, and in devout silence
follow that; not questioning it, obeying it as unquestionable.

I say, this is yet the only true morality known. A man is right and
invincible, virtuous and on the road towards sure conquest, precisely
while he joins himself to the great deep Law of the World, in spite of
all superficial laws, temporary appearances, profit-and-loss
calculations; he is victorious while he coöperates with that great
central Law, not victorious otherwise: - and surely his first chance of
coöperating with it, or getting into the course of it, is to know with
his whole soul that it _is_; that it is good, and alone good! This is
the soul of Islam; it is properly the soul of Christianity; - for Islam
is definable as a confused form of Christianity; had Christianity not
been, neither had it been. Christianity also commands us, before all,
to be resigned to God. We are to take no counsel with flesh-and-blood;
give ear to no vain cavils, vain sorrows and wishes: to know that we
know nothing; that the worst and cruelest to our eyes is not what it
seems; that we have to receive whatsoever befalls us as sent from God
above, and say, It is good and wise, God is great! "Though He slay me,
yet will I trust in Him." Islam means in its way Denial of Self,
Annihilation of Self. This is yet the highest Wisdom that Heaven has
revealed to our Earth.

Such light had come, as it could, to illuminate the darkness of this
wild Arab soul. A confused dazzling, splendour as of life and Heaven,
in the great darkness which threatened to be death: he called it
revelation and the angel Gabriel; - who of us yet can know what to call
it? It is the 'inspiration of the Almighty that giveth us
understanding.' To _know_; to get into the truth of anything, is ever
a mystic act, - of which the best Logics can but babble on the surface.
'Is not Belief the true god-announcing Miracle?' says Novalis. - That
Mahomet's whole soul, set in flame with this grand Truth vouchsafed
him, should feel as if it were important and the only important thing,
was very natural. That Providence had unspeakably honoured _him_ by
revealing it, saving him from death and darkness; that he therefore
was bound to make known the same to all creatures: this is what was
meant by 'Mahomet is the Prophet of God;' this too is not without its
true meaning. -

The good Kadijah, we can fancy, listened to him with wonder, with
doubt: at length she answered: Yes, it was _true_ this that he said.
One can fancy too the boundless gratitude of Mahomet; and how of all
the kindnesses she had done him, this of believing the earnest
struggling word he now spoke was the greatest. 'It is certain,' says
Novalis, 'my Conviction gains infinitely, the moment another soul will
believe in it.' It is a boundless favour. - He never forgot this good
Kadijah. Long afterwards, Ayesha his young favourite wife, a woman who
indeed distinguished herself among the Moslem, by all manner of
qualities, through her whole long life; this young brilliant Ayesha
was, one day, questioning him: "Now am not I better than Kadijah? She
was a widow; old, and had lost her looks: you love me better than you
did her?" - "No, by Allah!" answered Mahomet: "No, by Allah! She
believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had
but one friend, and she was that!" - Seid, his Slave, also believed in
him; these with his young Cousin Ali, Abu Thaleb's son, were his first
converts.

He spoke of his Doctrine to this man and that; but the most treated it
with ridicule, with indifference; in three years, I think, he had
gained but thirteen followers. His progress was slow enough. His
encouragement to go on, was altogether the usual encouragement that
such a man in such a case meets. After some three years of small
success, he invited forty of his chief kindred to an entertainment;
and there stood-up and told them what his pretension was: that he had
this thing to promulgate abroad to all men; that it was the highest
thing, the one thing: which of them would second him in that? Amid the
doubt and silence of all, young Ali, as yet a lad of sixteen,
impatient of the silence, started-up, and exclaimed in passionate
fierce language, That he would! The assembly, among whom was Abu
Thaleb, Ali's Father, could not be unfriendly to Mahomet; yet the
sight there, of one unlettered elderly man, with a lad of sixteen,
deciding on such an enterprise against all mankind, appeared
ridiculous to them; the assembly broke-up in laughter. Nevertheless it
proved not a laughable thing; it was a very serious thing! As for this
young Ali, one cannot but like him. A noble-minded creature, as he
shows himself, now and always afterwards; full of affection, of fiery
daring. Something chivalrous in him; brave as a lion; yet with a
grace, a truth and affection worthy of Christian knighthood. He died
by assassination in the Mosque at Bagdad; a death occasioned by his
own generous fairness, confidence in the fairness of others: he said,
If the wound proved not unto death, they must pardon the Assassin; but
if it did, then they must slay him straightway, that so they two in
the same hour might appear before God, and see which side of that
quarrel was the just one!

Mahomet naturally gave offence to the Koreish, Keepers of the Caabah,
superintendents of the Idols. One or two men of influence had joined
him: the thing spread slowly, but it was spreading. Naturally, he gave
offence to everybody: Who is this that pretends to be wiser than we
all; that rebukes us all, as mere fools and worshippers of wood! Abu
Thaleb the good Uncle spoke with him: Could he not be silent about all
that; believe it all for himself, and not trouble others, anger the
chief men, endanger himself and them all, talking of it? Mahomet
answered: If the Sun stood on his right hand and the Moon on his left,
ordering him to hold his peace, he could not obey! No: there was
something in this Truth he had got which was of Nature herself; equal
in rank to Sun, or Moon, or whatsoever thing Nature had made. It would
speak itself there, so long as the Almighty allowed it, in spite of
Sun and Moon, and all Koreish and all men and things. It must do that,
and could do no other. Mahomet answered so; and, they say, 'burst into
tears.' Burst into tears: he felt that Abu Thaleb was good to him;
that the task he had got was no soft, but a stern and great one.

He went on speaking to who would listen to him; publishing his
Doctrine among the pilgrims as they came to Mecca; gaining adherents
in this place and that. Continual contradiction, hatred, open or
secret danger attended him. His powerful relations protected Mahomet
himself; but by and by, on his own advice, all his adherents had to
quit Mecca, and seek refuge in Abyssinia over the sea. The Koreish
grew ever angrier; laid plots, and swore oaths among them, to put
Mahomet to death with their own hands. Abu Thaleb was dead, the good
Kadijah was dead. Mahomet is not solicitous of sympathy from us; but
his outlook at this time was one of the dismalest. He had to hide in
caverns, escape in disguise; fly hither and thither; homeless, in
continual peril of his life. More than once it seemed all-over with
him; more than once it turned on a straw, some rider's horse taking
fright or the like, whether Mahomet and his Doctrine had not ended
there, and not been heard of at all. But it was not to end so.

In the thirteenth year of his mission, finding his enemies all banded
against him, forty sworn men, one out of every tribe, waiting to take
his life, and no continuance possible at Mecca for him any longer,
Mahomet fled to the place then called Yathreb, where he had gained
some adherents; the place they now call Medina, or '_Medinat al Nabi_,
the City of the Prophet,' from that circumstance. It lay some 200
miles off, through rocks and deserts; not without great difficulty, in
such mood as we may fancy, he escaped thither, and found welcome. The
whole East dates its era from this Flight, _Hegira_ as they name it:
the Year 1 of this Hegira is 622 of our Era, the fifty-third of
Mahomet's life. He was now becoming an old man; his friends sinking
round him one by one: his path desolate, encompassed with danger:
unless he could find hope in his own heart, the outward face of things
was but hopeless for him. It is so with all men in the like case.
Hitherto Mahomet had professed to publish his Religion by the way of
preaching and persuasion alone. But now, driven foully out of his
native country, since unjust men had not only given no ear to his
earnest Heaven's-message, the deep cry of his heart, but would not
even let him live if he kept speaking it, - the wild Son of the Desert
resolved to defend himself, like a man and Arab. If the Koreish will
have it so, they shall have it. Tidings, felt to be of infinite moment
to them and all men, they would not listen to these; would trample
them down by sheer violence, steel and murder: well, let steel try it
then! Ten years more this Mahomet had: all of fighting, of breathless
impetuous toil and struggle; with what result we know.

Much has been said of Mahomet's propagating his Religion by the sword.
It is no doubt far nobler what we have to boast of the Christian
Religion, that it propagated itself peaceably in the way of preaching
and conviction. Yet withal, if we take this for an argument of the
truth or falsehood of a religion, there is a radical mistake in it.
The sword indeed: but where will you get your sword! Every new
opinion, at its starting, is precisely in a _minority of one_. In one
man's head alone, there it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole
world believes it; there is one man against all men. That _he_ take a
sword, and try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You
must first get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself
as it can. We do not find, of the Christian Religion either, that it
always disdained the sword, when once it had got one. Charlemagne's
conversion of the Saxons was not by preaching. I care little about the
sword: I will allow a thing to struggle for itself in this world, with
any sword or tongue or implement it has, or can lay hold of. We will
let it preach, and pamphleteer, and fight, and to the uttermost bestir
itself, and do, beak and claws, whatsoever is in it; very sure that it
will, in the long-run, conquer nothing which does not deserve to be
conquered. What is better than itself, it cannot put away, but only
what is worse. In this great Duel, Nature herself is umpire, and can
do no wrong: the thing which is deepest-rooted in Nature, what we call
_truest_, that thing and not the other will be found growing at last.

Here however, in reference to much that there is in Mahomet and his
success, we are to remember what an umpire Nature is; what a
greatness, composure of depth and tolerance there is in her. You take
wheat to cast into the Earth's bosom: your wheat may be mixed with
chaff, chopped straw, barn-sweepings, dust and all imaginable rubbish;
no matter: you cast it into the kind just Earth; she grows the
wheat, - the whole rubbish she silently absorbs, shrouds _it_ in, says
nothing of the rubbish. The yellow wheat is growing there; the good
Earth is silent about all the rest, - has silently turned all the rest
to some benefit too, and makes no complaint about it! So everywhere in
Nature! She is true and not a lie; and yet so great, and just, and
motherly in her truth. She requires of a thing only that it _be_
genuine of heart; she will protect it if so; will not, if not so.
There is a soul of truth in all the things she ever gave harbour to.
Alas, is not this the history of all highest Truth that comes or ever
came into the world? The _body_ of them all is imperfection, an
element of light _in_ darkness: to us they have to come embodied in
mere Logic, in some merely _scientific_ Theorem of the Universe; which
_cannot_ be complete; which cannot but be found, one day, incomplete,
erroneous, and so die and disappear. The body of all Truth dies; and
yet in all, I say, there is a soul which never dies; which in new and
ever-nobler embodiment lives immortal as man himself! It is the way
with Nature. The genuine essence of Truth never dies. That it be
genuine, a voice from the great Deep of Nature, there is the point at
Nature's judgment-seat. What _we_ call pure or impure, is not with her
the final question. Not how much chaff is in you; but whether you have
any wheat. Pure? I might say to many a man: Yes, you are pure; pure
enough; but you are chaff, - insincere hypothesis, hearsay, formality;
you never were in contact with the great heart of the Universe at all;
you are properly neither pure nor impure; you _are_ nothing, Nature
has no business with you.

Mahomet's Creed we called a kind of Christianity; and really, if we
look at the wild rapt earnestness with which it was believed and laid
to heart, I should say a better kind than that of those miserable
Syrian Sects, with their vain janglings about _Homoiousion_ and
_Homoousion_, the head full of worthless noise, the heart empty and
dead! The truth of it is embedded in portentous error and falsehood;
but the truth of it makes it be believed, not the falsehood: it
succeeded by its truth. A bastard kind of Christianity, but a living
kind; with a heart-life in it: not dead, chopping barren logic merely!
Out of all that rubbish of Arab idolatries, argumentative theologies,
traditions, subtleties, rumours and hypotheses of Greeks and Jews,
with their idle wire-drawings, this wild man of the Desert, with his
wild sincere heart, earnest as death and life, with his great flashing
natural eyesight, had seen into the kernel of the matter. Idolatry is
nothing: these Wooden Idols of yours, 'ye rub them with oil and wax,
and the flies stick on them,' - these are wood, I tell you! They can do
nothing for you; they are an impotent blasphemous pretence; a horror
and abomination, if ye knew them. God alone is; God alone has power;
He made us, He can kill us and keep us alive: '_Allah akbar_, God is
great.' Understand that His will is the best for you; that howsoever
sore to flesh-and-blood, you will find it the wisest, best: you are
bound to take it so; in this world and in the next, you have no other
thing that you can do!

And now if the wild idolatrous men did believe this, and with their
fiery hearts laid hold of it to do it, in what form soever it came to
them, I say it was well worthy of being believed. In one form or the
other, I say it is still the one thing worthy of being believed by all
men. Man does hereby become the high-priest of this Temple of a World.
He is in harmony with the Decrees of the Author of this World;
coöperating with them, not vainly withstanding them: I know, to this
day, no better definition of Duty than that same. All that is _right_
includes itself in this of coöperating with the real Tendency of the
World; you succeed by this (the World's Tendency will succeed), you
are good, and in the right course there. _Homoiousion_, _Homoousion_,
vain logical jangle, then or before or at any time, may jangle itself
out, and go whither and how it likes: this is the _thing_ it all
struggles to mean, if it would mean anything. If it do not succeed in
meaning this, it means nothing. Not that Abstractions, logical
Propositions, be correctly worded or incorrectly; but that living
concrete Sons of Adam do lay this to heart: that is the important
point. Islam devoured all these vain jangling Sects; and I think had
right to do so. It was a Reality, direct from the great Heart of
Nature once more. Arab idolatries, Syrian formulas, whatsoever was not
equally real, had to go up in flame, - mere dead _fuel_, in various
senses, for this which was _fire_.

* * * * *

It was during these wild warfarings and strugglings, especially after
the Flight to Mecca, that Mahomet dictated at intervals his Sacred
Book, which they name _Koran_, or _Reading_, 'Thing to be read.' This
is the Work he and his disciples made so much of, asking all the
world, Is not that a miracle? The Mahometans regard their Koran with a
reverence which few Christians pay even to their Bible. It is admitted
everywhere as the standard of all law and all practice; the thing to
be gone-upon in speculation and life: the message sent direct out of
Heaven, which this Earth has to conform to, and walk by; the thing to
be read. Their Judges decide by it; all Moslem are bound to study it,
seek in it for the light of their life. They have mosques where it is
all read daily; thirty relays of priests take it up in succession, get
through the whole each day. There, for twelve-hundred years, has the
voice of this Book, at all moments, kept sounding through the ears and
the hearts of so many men. We hear of Mahometan Doctors that had read
it seventy-thousand times!

Very curious: if one sought for 'discrepancies of national taste,'
here surely were the most eminent instance of that! We also can read
the Koran; our Translation of it, by Sale, is known to be a very fair
one. I must say, it is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook. A
wearisome confused jumble, crude, incondite; endless iterations,
long-windedness, entanglement; most crude, incondite; - insupportable
stupidity, in short! Nothing but a sense of duty could carry any
European through the Koran. We read in it, as we might in the
State-Paper Office, unreadable masses of lumber, that perhaps we may
get some glimpses of a remarkable man. It is true we have it under
disadvantages: the Arabs see more method in it than we. Mahomet's
followers found the Koran lying all in fractions, as it had been
written-down at first promulgation; much of it, they say, on
shoulder-blades of mutton, flung pellmell into a chest: and they
published it, without any discoverable order as to time or
otherwise; - merely trying, as would seem, and this not very strictly,
to put the longest chapters first. The real beginning of it, in that
way, lies almost at the end: for the earliest portions were the
shortest. Read in its historical sequence it perhaps would not be so
bad. Much of it, too, they say, is rhythmic; a kind of wild chanting
song, in the original. This may be a great point; much perhaps has
been lost in the Translation here. Yet with every allowance, one feels
it difficult to see how any mortal ever could consider this Koran as a



Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 27 of 43)