Thomas Carlyle.

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

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Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 33 of 43)
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At bottom, it was no new saying; it was a return to all old sayings
that ever had been said. Be genuine, be sincere: that was, once more,
the meaning of it. Mahomet believed with his whole mind; Odin with his
whole mind, - he, and all _true_ Followers of Odinism. They, by their
private judgment, had 'judged' - _so_.

And now, I venture to assert, that the exercise of private judgment,
faithfully gone about, does by no means necessarily end in selfish
independence, isolation; but rather ends necessarily in the opposite
of that. It is not honest inquiry that makes anarchy; but it is error,
insincerity, half-belief and untruth that make it. A man protesting
against error is on the way towards uniting himself with all men that
believe in truth. There is no communion possible among men who believe
only in hearsays. The heart of each is lying dead; has no power of
sympathy even with _things_, - or he would believe _them_ and not
hearsays. No sympathy even with things; how much less with his
fellow-men! He cannot unite with men; he is an anarchic man. Only in a
world of sincere men is unity possible; - and there, in the longrun, it
is as good as _certain_.

For observe one thing, a thing too often left out of view, or rather
altogether lost sight of, in this controversy: That it is not
necessary a man should himself have _discovered_ the truth he is to
believe in, and never so _sincerely_ to believe in. A Great Man, we
said, was always sincere, as the first condition of him. But a man
need not be great in order to be sincere; that is not the necessity of
Nature and all Time, but only of certain corrupt unfortunate epochs of
Time. A man can believe, and make his own, in the most genuine way,
what he has received from another; - and with boundless gratitude to
that other! The merit of _originality_ is not novelty; it is
sincerity. The believing man is the original man; whatsoever he
believes, he believes it for himself, not for another. Every son of
Adam can become a sincere man, an original man, in this sense; no
mortal is doomed to be an insincere man. Whole ages, what we call ages
of Faith, are original; all men in them, or the most of men in them,
sincere. These are the great and fruitful ages: every worker, in all
spheres, is a worker not on semblance but on substance; every work
issues in a result: the general sum of such work is great; for all of
it, as genuine, tends towards one goal; all of it is _additive_, none
of it subtractive. There is true union, true kingship, loyalty, all
true and blessed things, so far as the poor Earth can produce
blessedness for men.

Hero-worship? Ah me, that a man be self-subsistent, original, true, or
what we call it, is surely the farthest in the world from indisposing
him to reverence and believe other men's truth! It only disposes,
necessitates and invincibly compels him to disbelieve other men's dead
formulas, hearsays and untruths. A man embraces truth with his eyes
open, and because his eyes are open: does he need to shut them before
he can love his Teacher of truth? He alone can love, with a right
gratitude and genuine loyalty of soul, the Hero-Teacher who has
delivered him out of darkness into light. Is not such a one a true
Hero and Serpent-queller; worthy of all reverence! The black monster,
Falsehood, our one enemy in this world, lies prostrate by his valour;
it was he that conquered the world for us! - See, accordingly, was not
Luther himself reverenced as a true Pope, or Spiritual Father, _being_
verily such? Napoleon, from amid boundless revolt of Sansculottism,
became a King. Hero-worship never dies, nor can die. Loyalty and
Sovereignty are everlasting in the world: - and there is this in them,
that they are grounded not on garnitures and semblances, but on
realities and sincerities. Not by shutting your eyes, your 'private
judgment;' no, but by opening them, and by having something to see!
Luther's message was deposition and abolition to all false Popes and
Potentates, but life and strength, though afar off, to new genuine

All this of Liberty and Equality, Electoral suffrages, Independence
and so forth, we will take, therefore, to be a temporary phenomenon,
by no means a final one. Though likely to last a long time, with sad
enough embroilments for us all, we must welcome it, as the penalty of
sins that are past, the pledge of inestimable benefits that are
coming. In all ways, it behoved men to quit simulacra and return to
fact; cost what it might, that did behove to be done. With spurious
Popes, and Believers having no private judgment, - quacks pretending to
command over dupes, - what can you do? Misery and mischief only. You
cannot make an association out of insincere men; you cannot build an
edifice except by plummet and level, - at _right_-angles to one
another! In all this wild revolutionary work, from Protestantism
downwards, I see the blessedest result preparing itself: not abolition
of Hero-worship, but rather what I would call a whole World of Heroes.
If Hero mean _sincere man_, why may not every one of us be a Hero? A
world all sincere, a believing world: the like has been; the like will
again be, - cannot help being. That were the right sort of Worshippers
for Heroes: never could the truly Better be so reverenced as where all
were True and Good! - But we must hasten to Luther and his Life.

* * * * *

Luther's birthplace was Eisleben in Saxony; he came into the world
there on the 10th of November 1483. It was an accident that gave this
honour to Eisleben. His parents, poor mine-labourers in a village of
that region, named Mohra, had gone to the Eisleben Winter-Fair: in the
tumult of this scene the Frau Luther was taken with travail, found
refuge in some poor house there, and the boy she bore was named MARTIN
LUTHER. Strange enough to reflect upon it. This poor Frau Luther, she
had gone with her husband to make her small merchandisings; perhaps to
sell the lock of yarn she had been spinning, to buy the small
winter-necessaries for her narrow hut or household; in the whole
world, that day, there was not a more entirely unimportant-looking
pair of people than this Miner and his Wife. And yet what were all
Emperors, Popes and Potentates, in comparison? There was born here,
once more, a Mighty Man; whose light was to flame as the beacon over
long centuries and epochs of the world; the whole world and its
history was waiting for this man. It is strange, it is great. It leads
us back to another Birth-hour, in a still meaner environment, Eighteen
Hundred years ago, - of which it is fit that we _say_ nothing, that we
think only in silence; for what words are there! The Age of Miracles
past? The Age of Miracles is forever here! -

I find it altogether suitable to Luther's function in this Earth, and
doubtless wisely ordered to that end by the Providence presiding over
him and us and all things, that he was born poor, and brought-up poor,
one of the poorest of men. He had to beg, as the schoolchildren in
those times did; singing for alms and bread, from door to door.
Hardship, rigorous Necessity was the poor boy's companion; no man nor
no thing would put-on a false face to flatter Martin Luther. Among
things, not among the shows of things, had he to grow. A boy of rude
figure, yet with weak health, with his large greedy soul, full of all
faculty and sensibility, he suffered greatly. But it was his task to
get acquainted with _realities_, and keep acquainted with them, at
whatever cost: his task was to bring the whole world back to reality,
for it had dwelt too long with semblance! A youth nursed-up in wintry
whirlwinds, in desolate darkness and difficulty, that he may
step-forth at last from his stormy Scandinavia, strong as a true man,
as a god: a Christian Odin, - a right Thor once more, with his
thunder-hammer, to smite asunder ugly enough _Jötuns_ and

Perhaps the turning incident of his life, we may fancy, was that death
of his friend Alexis, by lightning, at the gate of Erfurt. Luther had
struggled-up through boyhood, better and worse; displaying, in spite
of all hindrances, the largest intellect, eager to learn: his father
judging doubtless that he might promote himself in the world, set him
upon the study of Law. This was the path to rise; Luther, with little
will in it either way, had consented: he was now nineteen years of
age. Alexis and he had been to see the old Luther people at Mansfeldt;
were got back again near Erfurt, when a thunderstorm came on; the bolt
struck Alexis, he fell dead at Luther's feet. What is this Life of
ours? - gone in a moment, burnt-up like a scroll, into the blank
Eternity! What are all earthly preferments, Chancellorships,
Kingships? They lie shrunk together - there! The Earth has opened on
them; in a moment they are not, and Eternity is. Luther, struck to the
heart, determined to devote himself to God and God's service alone. In
spite of all dissuasions from his father and others, he became a Monk
in the Augustine Convent at Erfurt.

This was probably the first light-point in the history of Luther, his
purer will now first decisively uttering itself; but, for the present,
it was still as one light-point in an element all of darkness. He says
he was a pious monk, _ich bin ein frommer Mönch gewesen_; faithfully,
painfully struggling to work-out the truth of this high act of his;
but it was to little purpose. His misery had not lessened; had rather,
as it were, increased into infinitude. The drudgeries he had to do, as
novice in his Convent, all sorts of slave-work, were not his
grievance: the deep earnest soul of the man had fallen into all manner
of black scruples, dubitations; he believed himself likely to die
soon, and far worse than die. One hears with a new interest for poor
Luther that, at this time, he lived in terror of the unspeakable
misery; fancied that he was doomed to eternal reprobation. Was it not
the humble sincere nature of the man? What was he, that he should be
raised to Heaven! He that had known only misery, and mean slavery: the
news was too blessed to be credible. It could not become clear to him
how, by fasts, vigils, formalities and mass-work, a man's soul could
be saved. He fell into the blackest wretchedness; had to wander
staggering as on the verge of bottomless Despair.

It must have been a most blessed discovery, that of an old Latin Bible
which he found in the Erfurt Library about this time. He had never
seen the Book before. It taught him another lesson than that of fasts
and vigils. A brother monk too, of pious experience, was helpful.
Luther learned now that a man was saved not by singing masses, but by
the infinite grace of God: a more credible hypothesis. He gradually
got himself founded, as on the rock. No wonder he should venerate the
Bible, which had brought this blessed help to him. He prized it as the
Word of the Highest must be prized by such a man. He determined to
hold by that; as through life and to death he firmly did.

This, then, is his deliverance from darkness, his final triumph over
darkness, what we call his conversion; for himself the most important
of all epochs. That he should now grow daily in peace and clearness;
that, unfolding now the great talents and virtues implanted in him, he
should rise to importance in his Convent, in his country, and be found
more and more useful in all honest business of life, is a natural
result. He was sent on missions by his Augustine Order, as a man of
talent and fidelity fit to do their business well: the Elector of
Saxony, Friedrich, named the Wise, a truly wise and just prince, had
cast his eye on him as a valuable person; made him Professor in his
new University of Wittenberg, Preacher too at Wittenberg; in both
which capacities, as in all duties he did, this Luther, in the
peaceable sphere of common life, was gaining more and more esteem with
all good men.

It was in his twenty-seventh year that he first saw Rome; being sent
thither, as I said, on mission from his Convent. Pope Julius the
Second, and what was going-on at Rome, must have filled the mind of
Luther with amazement. He had come as to the Sacred City, throne of
God's Highpriest on Earth; and he found it - what we know! Many
thoughts it must have given the man; many which we have no record of,
which perhaps he did not himself know how to utter. This Rome, this
scene of false priests, clothed not in the beauty of holiness, but in
far other vesture, is _false_: but what is it to Luther? A mean man
he, how shall he reform a world? That was far from his thoughts. A
humble, solitary man, why should he at all meddle with the world? It
was the task of quite higher men than he. His business was to guide
his own footsteps wisely through the world. Let him do his own obscure
duty in it well; the rest, horrible and dismal as it looks, is in
God's hand, not in his.

It is curious to reflect what might have been the issue, had Roman
Popery happened to pass this Luther by; to go on in its great wasteful
orbit, and not come athwart his little path, and force him to assault
it! Conceivable enough that, in this case, he might have held his
peace about the abuses of Rome; left Providence, and God on high, to
deal with them! A modest quiet man; not prompt he to attack
irreverently persons in authority. His clear task, as I say, was to do
his own duty; to walk wisely in this world of confused wickedness, and
save his own soul alive. But the Roman Highpriesthood did come athwart
him: afar off at Wittenberg he, Luther, could not get lived in honesty
for it; he remonstrated, resisted, came to extremity; was struck-at,
struck again, and so it came to wager of battle between them! This is
worth attending to in Luther's history. Perhaps no man of so humble,
peaceable a disposition ever filled the world with contention. We
cannot but see that he would have loved privacy, quiet diligence in
the shade; that it was against his will he ever became a notoriety.
Notoriety: what would that do for him? The goal of his march through
this world was the Infinite Heaven; an indubitable goal for him: in a
few years, he should either have attained that, or lost it forever! We
will say nothing at all, I think, of that sorrowfulest of theories, of
its being some mean shopkeeper grudge, of the Augustine Monk against
the Dominican, that first kindled the wrath of Luther, and produced
the Protestant Reformation. We will say to the people who maintain it,
if indeed any such exist now: Get first into the sphere of thought by
which it is so much as possible to judge of Luther, or of any man like
Luther, otherwise than distractedly; we may then begin arguing with

The Monk Tetzel, sent out carelessly in the way of trade, by Leo
Tenth, - who merely wanted to raise a little money, and for the rest
seems to have been a Pagan rather than a Christian, so far as he was
anything, - arrived at Wittenberg, and drove his scandalous trade
there. Luther's flock bought Indulgences: in the confessional of his
Church, people pleaded to him that they had already got their sins
pardoned. Luther, if he would not be found wanting at his own post, a
false sluggard and coward at the very centre of the little space of
ground that was his own and no other man's, had to step-forth against
Indulgences, and declare aloud that _they_ were a futility and
sorrowful mockery, that no man's sins could be pardoned by _them_. It
was the beginning of the whole Reformation. We know how it went;
forward from this first public challenge of Tetzel, on the last day of
October 1517, through remonstrance and argument; - spreading ever
wider, rising ever higher; till it became unquenchable, and enveloped
all the world. Luther's heart's-desire was to have this grief and
other griefs amended; his thought was still far other than that of
introducing separation in the Church, or revolting against the Pope,
Father of Christendom. - The elegant Pagan Pope cared little about this
Monk and his doctrines; wished, however, to have done with the noise
of him: in a space of some three years, having tried various softer
methods, he thought good to end it by _fire_. He dooms the Monk's
writings to be burnt by the hangman, and his body to be sent bound to
Rome, - probably for a similar purpose. It was the way they had ended
with Huss, with Jerome, the century before. A short argument, fire.
Poor Huss: he came to that Constance Council, with all imaginable
promises and safe-conducts; an earnest, not rebellious kind of man:
they laid him instantly in a stone dungeon 'three-feet wide, six-feet
high, seven-feet long;' _burnt_ the true voice of him out of this
world; choked it in smoke and fire. That was _not_ well done!

I, for one, pardon Luther for now altogether revolting against the
Pope. The elegant Pagan, by this fire-decree of his, had kindled into
noble just wrath the bravest heart then living in this world. The
bravest, if also one of the humblest, peaceablest; it was now kindled.
These words of mine, words of truth and soberness, aiming faithfully,
as human inability would allow, to promote God's truth on Earth, and
save men's souls, you, God's vicegerent on earth, answer them by the
hangman and fire? You will burn me and them, for answer to the
God's-message they strove to bring you? _You_ are not God's
vicegerent; you are another's than his, I think I take your Bull, as
an emparchmented Lie, and burn _it_. You will do what you see good
next: this is what I do. - It was on the 10th of December 1520, three
years after the beginning of the business, that Luther, 'with a great
concourse of people,' took this indignant step of burning the Pope's
fire-decree 'at the Elster-Gate of Wittenberg.' Wittenberg looked on
'with shoutings;' the whole world was looking on. The Pope should not
have provoked that 'shout'! It was the shout of the awakening of
nations. The quiet German heart, modest, patient of much, had at
length got more than it could bear. Formulism, Pagan Popeism, and
other Falsehood and corrupt Semblance had ruled long enough: and here
once more was a man found who durst tell all men that God's world
stood not on semblances but on realities; that Life was a truth, and
not a lie!

At bottom, as was said above, we are to consider Luther as a Prophet
Idol-breaker; a bringer-back of men to reality. It is the function of
great men and teachers. Mahomet said, These idols of yours are wood;
you put wax and oil on them, the flies stick on them: they are not
God, I tell you, they are black wood! Luther said to the Pope, This
thing of yours that you call a Pardon of Sins, it is a bit of
rag-paper with ink. It _is_ nothing else; it, and so much like it, is
nothing else. God alone can pardon sins. Popeship, spiritual
Fatherhood of God's Church, is that a vain semblance, of cloth and
parchment? It is an awful fact. God's Church is not a semblance,
Heaven and Hell are not semblances. I stand on this, since you drive
me to it. Standing on this, I a poor German monk am stronger than you
all. I stand solitary, friendless, but on God's Truth; you with your
tiaras, triple-hats, with your treasuries and armories, thunders
spiritual and temporal, stand on the Devil's Lie, and are not so
strong! -

The Diet of Worms, Luther's appearance there on the 17th of April
1521, may be considered as the greatest scene in Modern European
History; the point, indeed, from which the whole subsequent history of
civilisation takes its rise. After multiplied negotiations,
disputations, it had come to this. The young Emperor Charles Fifth,
with all the Princes of Germany, Papal nuncios, dignitaries spiritual
and temporal, are assembled there: Luther is to appear and answer for
himself, whether he will recant or not. The world's pomp and power
sits there on this hand: on that, stands-up for God's Truth, one man,
the poor miner Hans Luther's Son. Friends had reminded him of Huss,
advised him not to go; he would not be advised. A large company of
friends rode-out to meet him, with still more earnest warnings; he
answered, "Were there as many Devils in Worms as there are roof-tiles,
I would on." The people, on the morrow, as he went to the Hall of the
Diet, crowded the windows and housetops, some of them calling out to
him, in solemn words, not to recant: "Whosoever denieth me before
men!" they cried to him, - as in a kind of solemn petition and
adjuration. Was it not in reality our petition too, the petition of
the whole world, lying in dark bondage of soul, paralysed under a
black spectral Nightmare and triple-hatted Chimera, calling itself
Father in God, and what not: "Free us; it rests with thee; desert us

Luther did not desert us. His speech, of two hours, distinguished
itself by its respectful, wise and honest tone; submissive to
whatsoever could lawfully claim submission, not submissive to any more
than that. His writings, he said, were partly his own, partly derived
from the Word of God. As to what was his own, human infirmity entered
into it; unguarded anger, blindness, many things doubtless which it
were a blessing for him could he abolish altogether. But as to what
stood on sound truth and the Word of God, he could not recant it. How
could he? "Confute me," he concluded, "by proofs of Scripture, or else
by plain just arguments: I cannot recant otherwise. For it is neither
safe nor prudent to do ought against conscience. Here stand I; I can
do no other: God assist me!" - It is, as we say, the greatest moment in
the Modern History of Men. English Puritanism, England and its
Parliaments, Americas, and vast work these two centuries; French
Revolution, Europe and its work everywhere at present: the germ of it
all lay there: had Luther in that moment done other, it had all been
otherwise! The European World was asking him: Am I to sink ever lower
into falsehood, stagnant putrescence, loathsome accursed death; or,
with whatever paroxysm, to cast the falsehoods out of me, and be cured
and live? -

* * * * *

Great wars, contentions and disunion followed out of this Reformation;
which last down to our day, and are yet far from ended. Great talk and
crimination has been made about these. They are lamentable,
undeniable; but after all what has Luther or his cause to do with
them? It seems strange reasoning to charge the Reformation with all
this. When Hercules turned the purifying river into King Augeas's
stables, I have no doubt the confusion that resulted was considerable
all around: but I think it was not Hercules's blame; it was some
other's blame! The Reformation might bring what results it liked when
it came, but the Reformation simply could not help coming. To all
Popes and Popes' advocates, expostulating, lamenting and accusing, the
answer of the world is: Once for all, your Popehood has become untrue.
No matter how good it was, how good you say it is, we cannot believe
it; the light of our whole mind, given us to walk-by from Heaven
above, finds it henceforth a thing unbelievable. We will not believe
it, we will not try to believe it, - we dare not! The thing is
_untrue_; we were traitors against the Giver of all Truth, if we durst
pretend to think it true. Away with it; let whatsoever likes come in
the place of it: with _it_ we can have no farther trade! - Luther and
his Protestantism is not responsible for wars; the false Simulacra
that forced him to protest, they are responsible. Luther did what
every man that God has made has not only the right, but lies under the
sacred duty, to do: answered a Falsehood when it questioned him, Dost
thou believe me? - No! - At what cost soever, without counting of costs,
this thing behoved to be done. Union, organisation spiritual and
material, a far nobler than, any Popedom or Feudalism in their truest
days, I never doubt, is coming for the world; sure to come. But on
Fact alone, not on Semblance and Simulacrum, will it be able either to
come, or to stand when come. With union grounded on falsehood, and
ordering us to speak and act lies, we will not have anything to do.
Peace? A brutal lethargy is peaceable, the noisome grave is peaceable.
We hope for a living peace, not a dead one!

And yet, in prizing justly the indispensable blessings of the New, let
us not be unjust to the Old. The Old _was_ true, if it no longer is.
In Dante's days it needed no sophistry, self-blinding, or other
dishonesty, to get itself reckoned true. It was good then; nay there
is in the soul of it a deathless good. The cry of 'No Popery' is
foolish enough in these days. The speculation that Popery is on the
increase, building new chapels and so forth, may pass for one of the

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 33 of 43)