Thomas Carlyle.

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

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Book written in Heaven, too good for the Earth; as a well-written
book, or indeed as a _book_ at all; and not a bewildered rhapsody;
_written_, so far as writing goes, as badly as almost any book ever
was. So much for national discrepancies, and the standard of taste.

Yet I should say, it was not unintelligible how the Arabs might so
love it. When once you get this confused coil of a Koran fairly off
your hands, and have it behind you at a distance, the essential type
of it begins to disclose itself; and in this there is a merit quite
other than the literary one. If a book come from the heart, it will
contrive to reach other hearts; all art and authorcraft are of small
amount to that. One would say the primary character of the Koran is
that of its _genuineness_, of its being a _bonâ-fide_ book. Prideaux,
I know, and others have represented it as a mere bundle of juggleries;
chapter after chapter got-up to excuse and varnish the author's
successive sins, forward his ambitions and quackeries: but really it
is time to dismiss all that. I do not assert Mahomet's continual
sincerity: who is continually sincere? But I confess I can make
nothing of the critic, in these times, who would accuse him of deceit
_prepense_; of conscious deceit generally, or perhaps at all; - still
more, of living in a mere element of conscious deceit, and writing
this Koran as a forger and juggler would have done! Every candid eye,
I think, will read the Koran far otherwise than so. It is the confused
ferment of a great rude human soul; rude, untutored, that cannot even
read; but fervent, earnest, struggling vehemently to utter itself in
words. With a kind of breathless intensity he strives to utter
himself; the thoughts crowd on him pellmell: for very multitude of
things to say, he can get nothing said. The meaning that is in him
shapes itself into no form of composition, is stated in no sequence,
method, or coherence; - they are not _shaped_ at all, these thoughts of
his; flung-out unshaped, as they struggle and tumble there, in their
chaotic inarticulate state. We said 'stupid:' yet natural stupidity is
by no means the character of Mahomet's Book; it is natural
uncultivation rather. The man has not studied speaking; in the haste
and pressure of continual fighting, has not time to mature himself
into fit speech. The panting breathless haste and vehemence of a man
struggling in the thick of battle for life and salvation; this is the
mood he is in! A headlong haste; for very magnitude of meaning, he
cannot get himself articulated into words. The successive utterances
of a soul in that mood, coloured by the various vicissitudes of
three-and-twenty years; now well uttered, now worse: this is the

For we are to consider Mahomet, through these three-and-twenty years,
as the centre of a world wholly in conflict. Battles with the Koreish
and Heathen, quarrels among his own people, backslidings of his own
wild heart; all this kept him in a perpetual whirl, his soul knowing
rest no more. In wakeful nights, as one may fancy, the wild soul of
the man, tossing amid these vortices, would hail any light of a
decision for them as a veritable light from Heaven; _any_ making-up of
his mind, so blessed, indispensable for him there, would seem the
inspiration of a Gabriel. Forger and juggler? No, no! This great fiery
heart, seething, simmering like a great furnace of thoughts, was not a
juggler's. His life was a Fact to him; this God's Universe an awful
Fact and Reality. He has faults enough. The man was an uncultured
semi-barbarous Son of Nature, much of the Bedouin still clinging to
him: we must take him for that. But for a wretched Simulacrum, a
hungry Impostor without eyes or heart, practising for a mess of
pottage such blasphemous swindlery, forgery of celestial documents,
continual high-treason against his Maker and Self, we will not and
cannot take him.

Sincerity, in all senses, seems to me the merit of the Koran; what had
rendered it precious to the wild Arab men. It is, after all, the first
and last merit in a book; gives rise to merits of all kinds, - nay, at
bottom, it alone can give rise to merit of any kind. Curiously,
through these incondite masses of tradition, vituperation, complaint,
ejaculation in the Koran, a vein of true direct insight, of what we
might almost call poetry, is found straggling. The body of the Book is
made-up of mere tradition, and as it were vehement enthusiastic
extempore preaching. He returns forever to the old stories of the
Prophets as they went current in the Arab memory: how Prophet after
Prophet, the Prophet Abraham, the Prophet Hud, the Prophet Moses,
Christian and other real and fabulous Prophets, had come to this Tribe
and to that, warning men of their sin; and been received by them even
as he Mahomet was, - which is a great solace to him. These things he
repeats ten, perhaps twenty times; again and ever again with wearisome
iteration; has never done repeating them. A brave Samuel Johnson, in
his forlorn garret, might con-over the Biographies of Authors in that
way! This is the great staple of the Koran. But curiously, through all
this, comes ever and anon some glance as of the real thinker and seer.
He has actually an eye for the world, this Mahomet: with a certain
directness and rugged vigour, he brings home still, to our heart, the
thing his own heart has been opened to. I make but little of his
praises of Allah, which many praise; they are borrowed I suppose
mainly from the Hebrew, at least they are far surpassed there. But the
eye that flashes direct into the heart of things, and _sees_ the truth
of them; this is to me a highly interesting object. Great Nature's own
gift; which she bestows on all; but which only one in the thousand
does not cast sorrowfully away: it is what I call sincerity of vision;
the test of a sincere heart.

Mahomet can work no miracles; he often answers impatiently: I can work
no miracles. I? 'I am a Public Preacher;' appointed to preach this
doctrine to all creatures. Yet the world, as we can see, had really
from of old been all one great miracle to him. Look over the world,
says he; is it not wonderful, the work of Allah; wholly 'a sign to
you,' if your eyes were open! This Earth, God made it for you:
'appointed paths in it;' you can live in it, go to and fro on it. - The
clouds in the dry country of Arabia, to Mahomet they are very
wonderful: Great clouds, he says, born in the deep bosom of the Upper
Immensity, where do they come from! They hang there, the great black
monsters; pour-down their rain deluges 'to revive a dead earth,' and
grass springs, and tall leafy palm-trees with their date-clusters
hanging round. Is not that a sign?' Your cattle too, - Allah made them;
serviceable dumb creatures; they change the grass into milk; you have
your clothing from them, very strange creatures; they come ranking
home at evening-time, 'and,' adds he, 'and are a credit to you!' Ships
also, - he talks often about ships: Huge moving mountains, they
spread-out their cloth wings, go bounding through the water there,
Heaven's wind driving them; anon they lie motionless, God has
withdrawn the wind, they lie dead, and cannot stir! Miracles? cries
he; what miracle would you have? Are not you yourselves there? God
made _you_, 'shaped you out of a little clay.' Ye were small once; a
few years ago ye were not at all. Ye have beauty, strength, thoughts,
'ye have compassion on one another.' Old age comes-on you, and gray
hairs; your strength fades into feebleness; ye sink down, and again
are not. 'Ye have compassion on one another:' this struck me much:
Allah might have made you having no compassion on one another, - how
had it been then! This is a great direct thought, a glance at
first-hand into the very fact of things. Rude vestiges of poetic
genius, of whatsoever is best and truest, are visible in this man. A
strong untutored intellect: eyesight, heart; a strong wild man, - might
have shaped himself into Poet, King, Priest, any kind of Hero.

To his eyes it is forever clear that this world wholly is miraculous.
He sees what, as we said once before, all great thinkers, the rude
Scandinavians themselves, in one way or other, have contrived to see:
That this so solid-looking material world is, at bottom, in very deed,
Nothing; is a visual and tactual Manifestation of God's power and
presence, - a shadow hung-out by Him on the bosom of the void Infinite;
nothing more. The Mountains, he says, these great rock-mountains, they
shall dissipate themselves 'like clouds;' melt into the Blue as clouds
do, and not be! He figures the Earth, in the Arab fashion, Sale tells
us, as an immense Plain or flat Plate of ground, the mountains are set
on that to _steady_ it. At the Last Day they shall disappear 'like
clouds;' the whole Earth shall go spinning, whirl itself off into
wreck, and as dust and vapour vanish in the Inane. Allah withdraws his
hand from it, and it ceases to be. The universal empire of Allah,
presence everywhere of an unspeakable Power, a Splendour, and a Terror
not to be named, as the true force, essence and reality, in all things
whatsoever, was continually clear to this man. What a modern talks-of
by the name, Forces of Nature, Laws of Nature; and does not figure as
a divine thing; not even as one thing at all, but as a set of things,
undivine enough, - saleable, curious, good for propelling steamships!
With our Sciences and Cyclopædias, we are apt to forget the
_divineness_, in these laboratories of ours. We ought not to forget
it! That once well forgotten, I know not what else were worth
remembering. Most sciences, I think, were then a very dead thing;
withered, contentious, empty; - a thistle in late autumn. The best
science, without this, is but as the dead _timber_; it is not the
growing tree and forest, - which gives ever-new timber, among other
things! Man cannot _know_ either, unless he can _worship_ in some way.
His knowledge is a pedantry, and dead thistle, otherwise.

Much has been said and written about the sensuality of Mahomet's
Religion; more than was just. The indulgences, criminal to us, which
he permitted, were not of his appointment; he found them practised,
unquestioned from immemorial time in Arabia; what he did was to
curtail them, restrict them, not on one but on many sides. His
Religion is not an easy one: with rigorous fasts, lavations, strict
complex formulas, prayers five times a day, and abstinence from wine,
it did not 'succeed by being an easy religion.' As if indeed any
religion, or cause holding of religion, could succeed by that! It is a
calumny on men to say that they are roused to heroic action by ease,
hope of pleasure, recompense, - sugar-plums of any kind, in this world
or the next! In the meanest mortal there lies something nobler. The
poor swearing soldier, hired to be shot, has his 'honour of a
soldier,' different from drill-regulations and the shilling a day. It
is not to taste sweet things, but to do noble and true things, and
vindicate himself under God's Heaven as a god-made Man, that the
poorest son of Adam dimly longs. Show him the way of doing that, the
dullest daydrudge kindles into a hero. They wrong man greatly who say
he is to be seduced by ease. Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death
are the _allurements_ that act on the heart of man. Kindle the inner
genial life of him, you have a flame that burns-up all lower
considerations. Not happiness, but something higher: one sees this
even in the frivolous classes, with their 'point of honour' and the
like. Not by flattering our appetites; no, by awakening the Heroic
that slumbers in every heart, can any Religion gain followers.

Mahomet himself, after all that can be said about him, was not a
sensual man. We shall err widely if we consider this man as a common
voluptuary, intent mainly on base enjoyments, - nay on enjoyments of
any kind. His household was of the frugalest; his common diet
barley-bread and water: sometimes for months there was not a fire once
lighted on his hearth. They record with just pride that he would mend
his own shoes, patch his own cloak. A poor, hard-toiling, ill-provided
man; careless of what vulgar men toil for. Not a bad man, I should
say; something better in him than _hunger_ of any sort, - or these wild
Arab men, fighting and jostling three-and-twenty years at his hand, in
close contact with him always, would not have reverenced him so! They
were wild men, bursting ever and anon into quarrel, into all kinds of
fierce sincerity; without right worth and manhood, no man could have
commanded them. They called him Prophet, you say? Why, he stood there
face to face with them; bare, not enshrined in any mystery; visibly
clouting his own cloak, cobbling his own shoes; fighting, counselling,
ordering in the midst of them: they must have seen what kind of a man
he _was_, let him be _called_ what you like! No emperor with his
tiaras was obeyed as this man in a cloak of his own clouting. During
three-and-twenty years of rough actual trial. I find something of a
veritable Hero necessary for that, of itself.

His last words are a prayer; broken ejaculations of a heart
struggling-up, in trembling hope, towards its Maker. We cannot say
that his religion made him _worse_; it made him better; good, not bad.
Generous things are recorded of him: when he lost his Daughter, the
thing he answers is, in his own dialect, everyway sincere, and yet
equivalent to that of Christians, 'The Lord giveth, and the Lord
taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' He answered in like
manner of Seid, his emancipated well-beloved Slave, the second of the
believers. Seid had fallen in the War of Tabûc, the first of Mahomet's
fightings with the Greeks. Mahomet said, It was well; Seid had done
his Master's work, Seid had now gone to his Master: it was all well
with Seid. Yet Seid's daughter found him weeping over the body; - the
old gray-haired man melting in tears! "What do I see?" said she. - "You
see a friend weeping over his friend." - He went out for the last time
into the mosque, two days before his death; asked, If he had injured
any man? Let his own back bear the stripes. If he owed any man? A
voice answered, "Yes, me three drachms," borrowed on such an occasion.
Mahomet ordered them to be paid: "Better be in shame now," said he,
"than at the Day of Judgment." - You remember Kadijah, and the "No, by
Allah!" Traits of that kind show us the genuine man, the brother of us
all, brought visible through twelve centuries, - the veritable Son of
our common Mother.

Withal I like Mahomet for his total freedom from cant. He is a rough
self-helping son of the wilderness; does not pretend to be what he is
not. There is no ostentatious pride in him; but neither does he go
much upon humility: he is there as he can be, in cloak and shoes of
his own clouting; speaks plainly to all manner of Persian Kings, Greek
Emperors, what it is they are bound to do; knows well enough, about
himself, 'the respect due unto thee.' In a life-and-death war with
Bedouins, cruel things could not fail; but neither are acts of mercy,
of noble natural pity and generosity wanting. Mahomet makes no apology
for the one, no boast of the other. They were each the free dictate of
his heart; each called-for, there and then. Not a mealy-mouthed man! A
candid ferocity, if the case call for it, is in him; he does not mince
matters! The War of Tabûc is a thing he often speaks of: his men
refused, many of them, to march on that occasion: pleaded the heat of
the weather, the harvest, and so forth; he can never forget that. Your
harvest? It lasts for a day. What will become of your harvest through
all Eternity? Hot weather? Yes, it was hot; 'but Hell will be hotter!'
Sometimes a rough sarcasm turns-up: He says to the unbelievers, Ye
shall have the just measure of your deeds at that Great Day. They will
be weighed-out to you; ye shall not have short weight! - Everywhere he
fixes the matter in his eye; he _sees_ it: his heart, now and then, is
as if struck dumb by the greatness of it. 'Assuredly,' he says: that
word, in the Koran, is written-down sometimes as a sentence by itself:

No _Dilettantism_ in this Mahomet; it is a business of Reprobation and
Salvation with him, of Time and Eternity: he is in deadly earnest
about it! Dilettantism, hypothesis, speculation, a kind of
amateur-search for Truth, toying and coquetting with Truth: this is
the sorest sin. The root of all other imaginable sins. It consists in
the heart and soul of the man never having been _open_ to
Truth; - 'living in a vain show.' Such a man not only utters and
produces falsehoods, but _is_ himself a falsehood. The rational moral
principle, spark of the Divinity, is sunk deep in him, in quiet
paralysis of life-death. The very falsehoods of Mahomet are truer than
the truths of such a man. He is the insincere man: smooth-polished,
respectable in some times and places: inoffensive, says nothing harsh
to anybody; most _cleanly_, - just as carbonic acid is, which is death
and poison.

We will not praise Mahomet's moral precepts as always of the
superfinest sort; yet it can be said that there is always a tendency
to good in them; that they are the true dictates of a heart aiming
towards what is just and true. The sublime forgiveness of
Christianity, turning of the other cheek when the one has been
smitten, is not here: you _are_ to revenge yourself, but it is to be
in measure, not overmuch, or beyond justice. On the other hand, Islam,
like any great Faith, and insight into the essence of man, is a
perfect equaliser of men: the soul of one believer outweighs all
earthly kingships; all men, according to Islam too, are equal. Mahomet
insists not on the propriety of giving alms, but on the necessity of
it; he marks-down by law how much you are to give, and it is at your
peril if you neglect. The tenth part of a man's annual income,
whatever that may be, is the _property_ of the poor, of those that are
afflicted and need help. Good all this: the natural voice of humanity,
of pity and equity dwelling in the heart of this wild Son of Nature
speaks _so_.

Mahomet's Paradise is sensual, his Hell sensual: true; in the one and
the other there is enough that shocks all spiritual feeling in us. But
we are to recollect that the Arabs already had it so; that Mahomet, in
whatever he changed of it, softened and diminished all this. The worst
sensualities, too, are the work of doctors, followers of his, not his
work. In the Koran there is really very little said about the joys of
Paradise; they are intimated rather than insisted on. Nor is it
forgotten that the highest joys even there shall be spiritual; the
pure Presence of the Highest, this shall infinitely transcend all
other joys. He says, 'Your salutation shall be, Peace.' _Salam_, Have
Peace! - the thing that all rational souls long for, and seek, vainly
here below, as the one blessing. 'Ye shall sit on seats, facing one
another: all grudges shall be taken away out of your hearts.' All
grudges! Ye shall love one another freely; for each of you, in the
eyes of his brothers, there will be Heaven enough!

In reference to this of the sensual Paradise and Mahomet's sensuality,
the sorest chapter of all for us, there were many things to be said;
which it is not convenient to enter upon here. Two remarks only I
shall make, and therewith leave it to your candour. The first is
furnished me by Goethe; it is a casual hint of his which seems well
worth taking note of. In one of his Delineations, in _Meister's
Travels_ it is, the hero comes-upon a Society of men with very strange
ways, one of which was this: "We require," says the Master, "that each
of our people shall restrict himself in one direction," shall go right
against his desire in one matter, and _make_ himself do the thing he
does not wish, "should we allow him the greater latitude on all other
sides." There seems to me a great justness in this. Enjoying things
which are pleasant; that is not the evil: it is the reducing of our
moral self to slavery by them that is. Let a man assert withal that he
is king over his habitudes; that he could and would shake them off, on
cause shown: this is an excellent law. The Month Ramadhan for the
Moslem, much in Mahomet's Religion, much in his own Life, bears in
that direction; if not by forethought, or clear purpose of moral
improvement on his part, then by a certain healthy manful instinct,
which is as good.

But there is another thing to be said about the Mahometan Heaven and
Hell. This namely, that, however gross and material they may be, they
are an emblem of an everlasting truth, not always so well remembered
elsewhere. That gross sensual Paradise of his; that horrible flaming
Hell; the great enormous Day of Judgment he perpetually insists on:
what is all this but a rude shadow, in the rude Bedouin imagination,
of that grand spiritual Fact, and Beginning of Facts, which it is ill
for us too if we do not all know and feel: the Infinite Nature of
Duty? That man's actions here are of _infinite_ moment to him, and
never die or end at all; that man, with his little life, reaches
upwards high as Heaven, downwards low as Hell, and in his threescore
years of Time holds an Eternity fearfully and wonderfully hidden: all
this had burnt itself, as in flame-characters, into the wild Arab
soul. As in flame and lightning, it stands written there; awful,
unspeakable, ever present to him. With bursting earnestness, with a
fierce savage sincerity, halt, articulating, not able to articulate,
he strives to speak it, bodies it forth in that Heaven and that Hell.
Bodied forth in what way you will, it is the first of all truths. It
is venerable under all embodiments. What is the chief end of man here
below? Mahomet has answered this question, in a way that might put
some of _us_ to shame! He does not, like a Bentham, a Paley, take
Right and Wrong, and calculate the profit and loss, ultimate pleasure
of the one and of the other; and summing all up by addition and
subtraction into a net result, ask you, Whether on the whole the Right
does not preponderate considerably? No, it is not _better_ to do the
one than the other; the one is to the other as life is to death, - as
Heaven is to Hell. The one must in nowise be done, the other in nowise
left undone. You shall not measure them; they are incommensurable: the
one is death eternal to a man, the other is life eternal. Benthamee
Utility, virtue by Profit and Loss; reducing this God's-world to a
dead brute Steam-engine, the infinite celestial Soul of Man to a kind
of Hay-balance for weighing hay and thistles on, pleasures and pains
on: - If you ask me which gives, Mahomet or they, the beggarlier and
falser view of Man and his Destinies in this Universe, I will answer,
It is not Mahomet! - -

On the whole, we will repeat that this Religion of Mahomet's is a kind
of Christianity; has a genuine element of what is spiritually highest
looking through it, not to be hidden by all its imperfections. The
Scandinavian God _Wish_, the god of all rude men, - this has been
enlarged into a Heaven by Mahomet; but a Heaven symbolical of sacred
Duty, and to be earned by faith and welldoing, by valiant action, and
a divine patience which is still more valiant. It is Scandinavian
Paganism, and a truly celestial element superadded to that. Call it
not false; look not at the falsehood of it, look at the truth of it.
For these twelve centuries, it has been the religion and life-guidance
of the fifth part of the whole kindred of Mankind. Above all things,
it has been a religion heartily _believed_. These Arabs believe their
religion, and try to live by it! No Christians, since the early ages,
or only perhaps the English Puritans in modern times, have ever stood
by their Faith as the Moslem do by theirs, - believing it wholly,
fronting Time with it, and Eternity with it. This night the watchman
on the streets of Cairo when he cries "Who goes?" will hear from the
passenger, along with his answer, "There is no God but God." _Allah
akbar, Islam_, sounds through the souls, and whole daily existence, of
these dusky millions. Zealous missionaries preach it abroad among
Malays, black Papuans, brutal Idolaters; - displacing what is worse,
nothing that is better or good.

To the Arab Nation it was as a birth from darkness into light; Arabia
first became alive by means of it. A poor shepherd people, roaming
unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a
Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe:
see, the unnoticed becomes world-notable, the small has grown
world-great; within one century afterwards, Arabia is at Grenada on

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 28 of 43)