Thomas Carlyle.

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

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Southampton cast some kind glances on; whom Sir Thomas Lucy, many
thanks to him, was for sending to the Treadmill! We did not account
him a god, like Odin, while he dwelt with us; - on which point there
were much to be said. But I will say rather, or repeat: In spite of
the sad state Hero-worship now lies in, consider what this Shakspeare
has actually become among us. Which Englishman we ever made, in this
land of ours, which million of Englishmen, would we not give-up rather
than the Stratford Peasant? There is no regiment of highest
Dignitaries that we would sell him for. He is the grandest thing we
have yet done. For our honour among foreign nations, as an ornament to
our English Household, what item is there that we would not surrender
rather than him? Consider now, if they asked us, Will you give-up your
Indian Empire or your Shakspeare, you English; never have had any
Indian Empire, or never have had any Shakspeare? Really it were a
grave question. Official persons would answer doubtless in official
language; but we, for our part too, should not we be forced to answer:
Indian Empire, or no Indian Empire; we cannot do without Shakspeare!
Indian Empire will go, at any rate, some day; but this Shakspeare does
not go, he lasts forever with us; we cannot give-up our Shakspeare!

Nay, apart from spiritualities; and considering him merely as a real,
marketable, tangibly-useful possession. England, before long, this
Island of ours, will hold but a small fraction of the English: in
America, in New Holland, east and west to the very Antipodes, there
will be a Saxondom covering great spaces of the Globe. And now, what
is it that can keep all these together into virtually one Nation, so
that they do not fall-out and fight, but live at peace, in brotherlike
intercourse, helping one another? This is justly regarded as the
greatest practical problem, the thing all manner of sovereignties and
governments are here to accomplish: what is it that will accomplish
this? Acts of Parliament, administrative prime-ministers cannot.
America is parted from us, so far as Parliament could part it. Call it
not fantastic, for there is much reality in it: Here, I say, is an
English King, whom no time or chance, Parliament or combination of
Parliaments, can dethrone! This King Shakspeare, does not he shine, in
crowned sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet
strongest of rallying-signs; indestructible; really more valuable in
that point of view than any other means or appliance whatsoever? We
can fancy him as radiant aloft over all the Nations of Englishmen, a
thousand years hence. From Paramatta, from New York, wheresoever,
under what sort of Parish-Constable soever, English men and women are,
they will say to one another: "Yes, this Shakspeare is ours; we
produced him, we speak and think by him; we are of one blood and kind
with him." The most common-sense politician too, if he pleases, may
think of that.

Yes, truly, it is a great thing for a Nation that it get an articulate
voice; that it produce a man who will speak-forth melodiously what the
heart of it means! Italy, for example, poor Italy lies dismembered,
scattered asunder, not appearing in any protocol or treaty as a unity
at all; yet the noble Italy is actually _one_: Italy produced its
Dante; Italy can speak! The Czar of all the Russias, he is strong,
with so many bayonets, Cossacks and cannons; and does a great feat in
keeping such a tract of Earth politically together; but he cannot yet
speak. Something great in him, but it is a dumb greatness. He has had
no voice of genius, to be heard of all men and times. He must learn to
speak. He is a great dumb monster hitherto. His cannons and Cossacks
will all have rusted into nonentity, while that Dante's voice is still
audible. The Nation that has a Dante is bound together as no dumb
Russia can be. - We must here end what we had to say of the



[_Friday, 15th May 1840_]

Our present discourse is to be of the Great Man as Priest. We have
repeatedly endeavoured to explain that all sorts of Heroes are
intrinsically of the same material; that given a great soul, open to
the Divine Significance of Life, then there is given a man fit to
speak of this, to sing of this, to fight and work for this, in a
great, victorious, enduring manner; there is given a Hero, - the
outward shape of whom will depend on the time and the environment he
finds himself in. The priest too, as I understand it, is a kind of
Prophet; in him too there is required to be a light of inspiration, as
we must name it. He presides over the worship of the people; is the
Uniter of them with the Unseen Holy. He is the spiritual Captain of
the people; as the Prophet is their spiritual King with many captains:
he guides them heavenward, by wise guidance through this Earth and its
work. The ideal of him is, that he too be what we can call a voice
from the unseen Heaven; interpreting, even as the Prophet did, and in
a more familiar manner unfolding the same to men. The unseen
Heaven, - the 'open secret of the Universe,' - which so few have an eye
for! He is the Prophet shorn of his more awful splendour; burning with
mild equable radiance, as the enlightener of daily life. This, I say,
is the ideal of a Priest. So in old times; so in these, and in all
times. One knows very well that, in reducing ideals to practice, great
latitude of tolerance is needful; very great. But a Priest who is not
this at all, who does not any longer aim or try to be this, is a
character - of whom we had rather not speak in this place.

Luther and Knox were by express vocation Priests, and did faithfully
perform that function in its common sense. Yet it will suit us better
here to consider them chiefly in their historical character, rather as
Reformers than Priests. There have been other Priests perhaps equally
notable, in calmer times, for doing faithfully the office of a Leader
of Worship; bringing down, by faithful heroism in that kind, a light
from Heaven into the daily life of their people; leading them forward,
as under God's guidance, in the way wherein they were to go. But when
this same _way_ was a rough one, of battle, confusion and danger, the
spiritual Captain, who led through that, becomes, especially to us who
live under the fruit of his leading, more notable than any other. He
is the warfaring and battling Priest; who led his people, not to quiet
faithful labour as in smooth times, but to faithful valorous conflict,
in times all violent, dismembered: a more perilous service, and a more
memorable one, be it higher or not. These two men we will account our
best Priests, inasmuch as they were our best Reformers. Nay I may ask,
Is not every true Reformer, by the nature of him, a _Priest_ first of
all? He appeals to Heaven's invisible justice against Earth's visible
force; knows that it, the invisible, is strong and alone strong. He is
a believer in the divine truth of things; a _seer_, seeing through the
shows of things; a worshipper, in one way or the other, of the divine
truth of things; a Priest, that is. If he be not first a Priest, he
will never be good for much as a Reformer.

Thus, then, as we have seen Great Men, in various situations, building
up Religions, heroic Forms of human Existence in this world, Theories
of Life worthy to be sung by a Dante, Practices of Life by a
Shakspeare, - we are now to see the reverse process; which also is
necessary, which also may be carried on in the Heroic manner. Curious
how this should be necessary; yet necessary it is. The mild shining of
the Poet's light has to give place to the fierce lightning of the
Reformer: unfortunately the Reformer too is a personage that cannot
fail in History! The Poet indeed, with his mildness, what is he but
the product and ultimate adjustment of Reform, or Prophecy with its
fierceness? No wild Saint Dominics and Thebaïd Eremites, there had
been no melodious Dante; rough Practical Endeavour, Scandinavian and
other, from Odin to Walter Raleigh, from Ulfila to Cranmer, enabled
Shakspeare to speak. Nay the finished Poet, I remark sometimes, is a
symptom that his epoch itself has reached perfection and is finished;
that before long there will be a new epoch, new Reformers needed.

Doubtless it were finer, could we go along always in the way of
_music_; be tamed and taught by our Poets, as the rude creatures were
by their Orpheus of old. Or failing this rhythmic _musical_ way, how
good were it could we get so much as into the _equable_ way; I mean,
if _peaceable_ Priests, reforming from day to day, would always
suffice us! But it is not so; even this latter has not yet been
realised. Alas, the battling Reformer too is, from time to time, a
needful and inevitable phenomenon. Obstructions are never wanting: the
very things that were once indispensable furtherances become
obstructions; and need to be shaken off, and left behind us, - a
business often of enormous difficulty. It is notable enough, surely,
how a Theorem or spiritual Representation, so we may call it, which
once took in the whole Universe, and was completely satisfactory in
all parts of it to the highly-discursive acute intellect of Dante, one
of the greatest in the world, - had in the course of another century
become dubitable to common intellects; become deniable; and is now, to
every one of us, flatly incredible, obsolete as Odin's Theorem! To
Dante, human Existence, and God's ways with men, were all well
represented by those _Malebolges_, _Purgatorios_; to Luther not well.
How was this? Why could not Dante's Catholicism continue; but Luther's
Protestantism must needs follow? Alas, nothing will _continue_.

I do not make much of 'Progress of the Species,' as handled in these
times of ours; nor do I think you would care to hear much about it.
The talk on that subject is too often of the most extravagant,
confused sort. Yet I may say, the fact itself seems certain enough;
nay we can trace out the inevitable necessity of it in the nature of
things. Every man, as I have stated somewhere, is not only a learner
but a doer: he learns with the mind given him what has been; but with
the same mind he discovers farther, he invents and devises somewhat of
his own. Absolutely without originality there is no man. No man
whatever believes, or can believe, exactly what his grandfather
believed: he enlarges somewhat, by fresh discovery, his view of the
Universe, and consequently his Theorem of the Universe, - which is an
_infinite_ Universe, and can never be embraced wholly or finally by
any view or Theorem, in any conceivable enlargement: he enlarges
somewhat, I say; finds somewhat that was credible to his grandfather
incredible to him, false to him, inconsistent with some new thing he
has discovered or observed. It is the history of every man; and in the
history of Mankind we see it summed-up into great historical
amounts, - revolutions, new epochs. Dante's Mountain of Purgatory does
_not_ stand 'in the ocean of the other Hemisphere,' when Columbus has
once sailed thither! Men find no such thing extant in the other
Hemisphere. It is not there. It must cease to be believed to be there.
So with all beliefs whatsoever in this world, - all Systems of Belief,
and Systems of Practice that spring from these.

If we add now the melancholy fact, that when Belief waxes uncertain,
Practice too becomes unsound, and errors, injustices and miseries
everywhere more and more prevail, we shall see material enough for
revolution. At all turns, a man who will _do_ faithfully, needs to
believe firmly. If he have to ask at every turn the world's suffrage;
if he cannot dispense with the world's suffrage, and make his own
suffrage serve, he is a poor eye-servant; the work committed to him
will be _mis_done. Every such man is a daily contributor to the
inevitable downfall. Whatsoever work he does, dishonestly, with an eye
to the outward look of it, is a new offence, parent of new misery to
somebody or other. Offences accumulate till they become insupportable;
and are then violently burst through, cleared off as by explosion.
Dante's sublime Catholicism, incredible now in theory, and defaced
still worse by faithless, doubting and dishonest practice, has to be
torn asunder by a Luther; Shakspeare's noble feudalism, as beautiful
as it once looked and was, has to end in a French Revolution. The
accumulation of offences is, as we say, too literally _exploded_,
blasted asunder volcanically; and there are long troublous periods
before matters come to a settlement again.

Surely it were mournful enough to look only at this face of the
matter, and find in all human opinions and arrangements merely the
fact that they were uncertain, temporary, subject to the law of death!
At bottom, it is not so: all death, here too we find, is but of the
body, not of the essence or soul; all destruction, by violent
revolution or howsoever it be, is but new creation on a wider scale.
Odinism was _Valour_; Christianism was _Humility_, a nobler kind of
Valour. No thought that ever dwelt honestly as true in the heart of
man but _was_ an honest insight into God's truth on man's part, and
_has_ an essential truth in it which endures through all changes, an
everlasting possession for us all. And, on the other hand, what a
melancholy notion is that, which has to represent all men, in all
countries and times except our own, as having spent their life in
blind condemnable error, mere lost Pagans, Scandinavians, Mahometans,
only that we might have the true ultimate knowledge! All generations
of men were lost and wrong, only that this present little section of a
generation might be saved and right. They all marched forward there,
all generations since the beginning of the world, like the Russian
soldiers into the ditch of Schweidnitz Fort, only to fill-up the ditch
with their dead bodies, that we might march-over and take the place!
It is an incredible hypothesis.

Such incredible hypothesis we have seen maintained with fierce
emphasis; and this or the other poor individual man, with his sect of
individual men, marching as over the dead bodies of all men, towards
sure victory: but when he too, with his hypothesis and ultimate
infallible credo, sank into the ditch, and became a dead body, what
was to be said? - Withal, it is an important fact in the nature of man,
that he tends to reckon his own insight as final, and goes upon it as
such. He will always do it, I suppose, in one or the other way; but it
must be in some wider, wiser way than this. Are not all true men that
live, or that ever lived, soldiers of the same army, enlisted, under
Heaven's captaincy, to do battle against the same enemy, the Empire of
Darkness and Wrong? Why should we misknow one another, fight not
against the enemy but against ourselves, from mere difference of
uniform? All uniforms shall be good, so they hold in them true valiant
men. All fashions of arms, the Arab turban and swift scimetar, Thor's
strong hammer smiting down _Jötuns_, shall be welcome. Luther's
battle-voice, Dante's march-melody, all genuine things are with us,
not against us. We are all under one Captain, soldiers of the same
host. - Let us now look a little at this Luther's fighting; what kind
of battle it was, and how he comported himself in it. Luther too was
of our spiritual Heroes; a Prophet to his country and time.

As introductory to the whole, a remark about Idolatry will perhaps be
in place here. One of Mahomet's characteristics, which indeed belongs
to all Prophets, is unlimited implacable zeal against Idolatry. It is
the grand theme of Prophets: Idolatry, the worshipping of dead Idols
as the Divinity, is a thing they cannot away-with, but have to
denounce continually, and brand with inexpiable reprobation; it is the
chief of all the sins they see done under the sun. This is worth
noting. We will not enter here into the theological question about
Idolatry. Idol is _Eidolon_, a thing seen, a symbol. It is not God,
but a Symbol of God; and perhaps one may question whether any the most
benighted mortal ever took it for more than a Symbol. I fancy, he did
not think that the poor image his own hands had made _was_ God; but
that God was emblemed by it, that God was in it some way or another.
And now in this sense, one may ask, Is not all worship whatsoever a
worship by Symbols, by _eidola_, or things seen? Whether _seen_,
rendered visible as an image or picture to the bodily eye; or visible
only to the inward eye, to the imagination, to the intellect: this
makes a superficial, but no substantial difference. It is still a
Thing Seen, significant of Godhead; an Idol. The most rigorous Puritan
has his Confession of Faith, and intellectual Representation of Divine
things, and worships thereby; thereby is worship first made possible
for him. All creeds, liturgies, religious forms, conceptions that
fitly invest religious feelings, are in this sense _eidola_, things
seen. All worship whatsoever must proceed by Symbols, by Idols: - we
may say, all Idolatry is comparative, and the worst Idolatry is only
_more_ idolatrous.

Where, then, lies the evil of it? some fatal evil must lie in it, or
earnest prophetic men would not on all hands so reprobate it. Why is
Idolatry so hateful to Prophets? It seems to me as if, in the worship
of those poor wooden symbols, the thing that had chiefly provoked the
Prophet, and filled his inmost soul with indignation and aversion, was
not exactly what suggested itself to his own thought, and came out of
him in words to others, as the thing. The rudest heathen that
worshipped Canopus, or the Caabah Black-Stone, he, as we saw, was
superior to the horse that worshipped nothing at all! Nay there was a
kind of lasting merit in that poor act of his; analogous to what is
still meritorious in Poets: recognition of a certain endless _divine_
beauty and significance in stars and all natural objects whatsoever.
Why should the Prophet so mercilessly condemn him? The poorest mortal
worshipping his Fetish, while his heart is full of it, may be an
object of pity, of contempt and avoidance, if you will; but cannot
surely be an object of hatred. Let his heart _be_ honestly full of it,
the whole space of his dark narrow mind illuminated thereby; in one
word, let him entirely _believe_ in his Fetish, - it will then be, I
should say, if not well with him, yet as well as it can readily be
made to be, and you will leave him alone, unmolested there.

But here enters the fatal circumstance of Idolatry, that, in the era
of the Prophets, no man's mind _is_ any longer honestly filled with
his Idol or Symbol. Before the Prophet can arise who, seeing through
it, knows it to be mere wood, many men must have begun dimly to doubt
that it was little more. Condemnable Idolatry is _insincere_ Idolatry.
Doubt has eaten-out the heart of it: a human soul is seen clinging
spasmodically to an Ark of the Covenant, which it half-feels now to
have become a Phantasm. This is one of the balefulest sights. Souls
are no longer _filled_ with their Fetish; but only pretend to be
filled, and would fain make themselves feel that they are filled. "You
do not believe," said Coleridge; "you only believe that you believe."
It is the final scene in all kinds of Worship and Symbolism; the sure
symptom that death is now nigh. It is equivalent to what we call
Formulism, and Worship of Formulas, in these days of ours. No more
immoral act can be done by a human creature; for it is the beginning
of all immorality, or rather it is the impossibility henceforth of any
morality whatsoever: the innermost moral soul is paralysed thereby,
cast into fatal magnetic sleep! Men are no longer _sincere_ men. I do
not wonder that the earnest man denounces this, brands it, prosecutes
it with unextinguishable aversion. He and it, all good and it, are at
death-feud. Blamable Idolatry is _Cant_, and even what one may call
Sincere-Cant. Sincere-Cant: that is worth thinking of! Every sort of
Worship ends with this phasis.

I find Luther to have been a Breaker of Idols, no less than any other
Prophet. The wooden gods of the Koreish, made of timber and bees-wax,
were not more hateful to Mahomet than Tetzel's Pardons of Sin, made of
sheepskin and ink, were to Luther. It is the property of every Hero,
in every time, in every place and situation, that he come back to
reality; that he stand upon things, and not shows of things. According
as he loves, and venerates, articulately or with deep speechless
thought, the awful realities of things, so will the hollow shows of
things, however regular, decorous, accredited by Koreishes or
Conclaves, be intolerable and detestable to him. Protestantism too is
the work of a Prophet: the prophet-work of that sixteenth century. The
first stroke of honest demolition to an ancient thing grown false and
idolatrous; preparatory afar off to a new thing, which shall be true,
and authentically divine! -

At first view it might seem as if Protestantism were entirely
destructive to this that we call Hero-worship, and represent as the
basis of all possible good, religious or social, for mankind. One
often hears it said that Protestantism introduced a new era, radically
different from any the world had ever seen before: the era of 'private
judgment,' as they call it. By this revolt against the Pope, every man
became his own Pope; and learnt, among other things, that he must
never trust any Pope, or spiritual Hero-captain, any more! Whereby, is
not spiritual union, all hierarchy and subordination among men,
henceforth an impossibility? So we hear it said. - Now I need not deny
that Protestantism was a revolt against spiritual sovereignties, Popes
and much else. Nay I will grant that English Puritanism, revolt
against earthly sovereignties, was the second act of it; that the
enormous French Revolution itself was the third act, whereby all
sovereignties earthly and spiritual were, as might seem, abolished or
made sure of abolition. Protestantism is the grand root from which our
whole subsequent European History branches out. For the spiritual will
always body itself forth in the temporal history of men; the spiritual
is the beginning of the temporal. And now, sure enough, the cry is
everywhere for Liberty and Equality, Independence and so forth:
instead of _Kings_, Ballot-boxes and Electoral suffrages; it seems
made out that any Hero-sovereign, or loyal obedience of men to a man,
in things temporal or things spiritual, has passed away forever from
the world. I should despair of the world altogether, if so. One of my
deepest convictions is, that it is not so. Without sovereigns, true
sovereigns, temporal and spiritual, I see nothing possible but an
anarchy: the hatefulest of things. But I find Protestantism, whatever
anarchic democracy it have produced, to be the beginning of new
genuine sovereignty and order. I find it to be a revolt against
_false_ sovereigns; the painful but indispensable first preparative
for _true_ sovereigns getting place among us! This is worth explaining
a little.

Let us remark, therefore, in the first place, that this of 'private
judgment' is, at bottom, not a new thing in the world, but only new at
that epoch of the world. There is nothing generically new or peculiar
in the Reformation; it was a return to Truth and Reality in opposition
to Falsehood and Semblance, as all kinds of Improvement and genuine
Teaching are and have been. Liberty of private judgment, if we will
consider it, must at all times have existed in the world. Dante had
not put-out his eyes, or tied shackles on himself; he was at home in
that Catholicism of his, a free-seeing soul in it, if many a poor
Hogstraten, Tetzel and Dr. Eck had now become slaves in it. Liberty of
judgment? No iron chain, or outward force of any kind, could ever
compel the soul of a man to believe or to disbelieve: it is his own
indefeasible light, that judgment of his; he will reign, and believe
there, by the grace of God alone! The sorriest sophistical Bellarmine,
preaching sightless faith and passive obedience, must first, by some
kind of _conviction_, have abdicated his right to be convinced. His
'private judgment' indicated that, as the advisablest step _he_ could
take. The right of private judgment will subsist, in full force,
wherever true men subsist. A true man _believes_ with his whole
judgment, with all the illumination and discernment that is in him,
and has always so believed. A false man, only struggling to 'believe
that he believes,' will naturally manage it in some other way.
Protestantism said to this latter, Woe! and to the former, Well done!

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 32 of 43)