Thomas Carlyle.

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

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idlest ever started. Very curious: to count-up a few Popish chapels,
listen to a few Protestant logic-choppings, - to much dull-droning,
drowsy inanity that still calls itself Protestant, and say: See,
Protestantism is _dead_; Popeism is more alive than it, will be alive
after it! - Drowsy inanities, not a few, that call themselves
Protestant are dead; but _Protestantism_ has not died yet, that I hear
of! Protestantism, if we will look, has in these days produced its
Goethe, its Napoleon; German Literature and the French Revolution;
rather considerable signs of life! Nay, at bottom, what else is alive
_but_ Protestantism? The life of most else that one meets is a
galvanic one merely, - not a pleasant, not a lasting sort of life!

Popery can build new chapels; welcome to do so, to all lengths. Popery
cannot come back, any more than Paganism can, - _which_ also still
lingers in some countries. But, indeed, it is with these things, as
with the ebbing of the sea: you look at the waves oscillating hither,
thither on the beach; for _minutes_ you cannot tell how it is going;
look in half an hour where it is, - look in half a century where your
Popehood is! Alas, would there were no greater danger to our Europe
than the poor old Pope's revival! Thor may as soon try to revive. - And
withal this oscillation has a meaning. The poor old Popehood will not
die away entirely, as Thor has done, for some time yet; nor ought it.
We may say, the Old never dies till this happen, Till all the soul of
good that was in it have got itself transfused into the practical New.
While a good work remains capable of being done by the Romish form;
or, what is inclusive of all, while a _pious life_ remains capable of
being led by it, just so long, if we consider, will this or the other
human soul adopt it, go about as a living witness of it. So long it
will obtrude itself on the eye of us who reject it, till we in our
practice too have appropriated whatsoever of truth was in it. Then,
but also not till then, it will have no charm more for any man. It
lasts here for a purpose. Let it last as long as it can. -

* * * * *

Of Luther I will add now, in reference to all these wars and
bloodshed, the noticeable fact that none of them began so long as he
continued living. The controversy did not get to fighting so long as
he was there. To me it is proof of his greatness in all senses, this
fact. How seldom do we find a man that has stirred-up some vast
commotion, who does not himself perish, swept-away in it! Such is the
usual course of revolutionists. Luther continued, in a good degree,
sovereign of this greatest revolution; all Protestants, of what rank
or function soever, looking much to him for guidance: and he held it
peaceable, continued firm at the centre of it. A man to do this must
have a kingly faculty: he must have the gift to discern at all turns
where the true heart of the matter lies, and to plant himself
courageously on that, as a strong true man, that other true men may
rally round him there. He will not continue leader of men otherwise.
Luther's clear deep force of judgment, his force of all sorts, of
_silence_, of tolerance and moderation, among others, are very notable
in these circumstances.

Tolerance, I say; a very genuine kind of tolerance: he distinguishes
what is essential, and what is not; the unessential may go very much
as it will. A complaint comes to him that such and such a Reformed
Preacher, 'will not preach without a cassock.' Well, answers Luther,
what harm will a cassock do the man? 'Let him have a cassock to preach
in; let him have three cassocks if he find benefit in them!' His
conduct in the matter of Karlstadt's wild image-breaking; of the
Anabaptists; of the Peasants' War, shows a noble strength, very
different from spasmodic violence. With sure prompt insight he
discriminates what is what: a strong just man, he speaks-forth what is
the wise course, and all men follow him in that. Luther's Written
Works give similar testimony of him. The dialect of these speculations
is now grown obsolete for us; but one still reads them with a singular
attraction. And indeed the mere grammatical diction is still legible
enough; Luther's merit in literary history is of the greatest; his
dialect became the language of all writing. They are not well written,
these Four-and-twenty Quartos of his; written hastily, with quite
other than literary objects. But in no Books have I found a more
robust, genuine, I will say noble faculty of a man than in these. A
rugged honesty, homeliness, simplicity; a rugged sterling sense and
strength. He flashes-out illumination from him; his smiting idiomatic
phrases seem to cleave into the very secret of the matter. Good humour
too, nay tender affection, nobleness, and depth: this man could have
been a Poet too! He had to _work_ an Epic Poem, not write one. I call
him a great Thinker; as indeed his greatness of heart already betokens

Richter says of Luther's words, 'his words are half-battles.' They may
be called so. The essential quality of him was, that he could fight
and conquer; that he was a right piece of human Valour. No more
valiant man, no mortal heart to be called _braver_, that one has
record of, ever lived in that Teutonic Kindred, whose character is
valour. His defiance of the 'Devils' in Worms was not a mere boast, as
the like might be if now spoken. It was a faith of Luther's that there
were Devils, spiritual denizens of the Pit, continually besetting men.
Many times, in his writings, this turns-up; and a most small sneer has
been grounded on it by some. In the room of the Wartburg where he sat
translating the Bible, they still show you a black spot on the wall;
the strange memorial of one of these conflicts. Luther sat translating
one of the Psalms; he was worn-down with long labour, with sickness,
abstinence from food: there rose before him some hideous indefinable
Image, which he took for the Evil One, to forbid his work: Luther
started-up, with fiend-defiance; flung his inkstand at the spectre,
and it disappeared! The spot still remains there; a curious monument
of several things. Any apothecary's apprentice can now tell us what we
are to think of this apparition, in a scientific sense: but the man's
heart that dare rise defiant, face to face, against Hell itself, can
give no higher proof of fearlessness. The thing he will quail before
exists not on this Earth or under it. - Fearless enough! 'The Devil is
aware,' writes he on one occasion, 'that this does not proceed out of
fear in me. I have seen and defied innumerable Devils. Duke George,'
of Leipzig, a great enemy of his, 'Duke George is not equal to one
Devil,' - far short of a Devil! 'If I had business at Leipzig, I would
ride into Leipzig, though it rained Duke-Georges for nine days
running.' What a reservoir of Dukes to ride into! -

At the same time, they err greatly who imagine that this man's courage
was ferocity, mere coarse disobedient obstinacy and savagery, as many
do. Far from that. There may be an absence of fear which arises from
the absence of thought or affection, from the presence of hatred and
stupid fury. We do not value the courage of the tiger highly! With
Luther it was far otherwise; no accusation could be more unjust than
this of mere ferocious violence brought against him. A most gentle
heart withal, full of pity and love, as indeed the truly valiant heart
ever is. The tiger before a _stronger_ foe - flies: the tiger is not
what we call valiant, only fierce and cruel. I know few things more
touching than those soft breathings of affection, soft as a child's or
a mother's, in this great wild heart of Luther. So honest,
unadulterated with any cant; homely, rude in their utterance; pure as
water welling from the rock. What, in fact, was all that downpressed
mood of despair and reprobation, which we saw in his youth, but the
outcome of pre-eminent thoughtful gentleness, affections too keen and
fine? It is the course such men as the poor Poet Cowper fall into.
Luther to a slight observer might have seemed a timid, weak man;
modesty, affectionate shrinking tenderness the chief distinction of
him. It is a noble valour which is roused in a heart like this, once
stirred-up into defiance, all kindled into a heavenly blaze.

In Luther's _Table-Talk_, a posthumous Book of anecdotes and sayings
collected by his friends, the most interesting now of all the Books
proceeding from him, we have many beautiful unconscious displays of
the man, and what sort of nature he had. His behaviour at the deathbed
of his little Daughter, so still, so great and loving, is among the
most affecting things. He is resigned that his little Magdalene should
die, yet longs inexpressibly that she might live; - follows, in
awe-struck thought, the flight of her little soul through those
unknown realms. Awe-struck; most heartfelt, we can see; and
sincere, - for after all dogmatic creeds and articles, he feels what
nothing it is that we know, or can know: His little Magdalene shall be
with God, as God wills; for Luther too that is all; _Islam_ is all.

Once, he looks-out from his solitary Patmos, the Castle of Coburg, in
the middle of the night: The great vault of Immensity, long flights of
clouds sailing through it, - dumb, gaunt, huge: - who supports all that?
"None ever saw the pillars of it; yet it is supported." God supports
it. We must know that God is great, that God is good; and trust, where
we cannot see. - Returning home from Leipzig once, he is struck by the
beauty of the harvest-fields: How it stands, that golden yellow corn,
on its fair taper stem, its golden head bent, all rich and waving
there, - the meek Earth, at God's kind bidding, has produced it once
again; the bread of man! - In the garden at Wittenburg one evening at
sunset, a little bird was perched for the night: That little bird,
says Luther, above it are the stars and deep Heaven of worlds; yet it
has folded its little wings; gone trustfully to rest there as in its
home: the Maker of it has given it too a home! - Neither are mirthful
turns wanting: there is a great free human heart in this man. The
common speech of him has a rugged nobleness, idiomatic, expressive,
genuine; gleams here and there with beautiful poetic tints. One feels
him to be a great brother man. His love of Music, indeed, is not this,
as it were, the summary of all these affections in him? Many a wild
unutterability he spoke-forth from him in the tones of his flute. The
Devils fled from his flute, he says. Death-defiance on the one hand,
and such love of music on the other; I could call these the two
opposite poles of a great soul; between these two all great things had

Luther's face is to me expressive of him; in Kranach's best portraits
I find the true Luther. A rude plebeian face; with its huge crag-like
brows and bones, the emblem of rugged energy; at first, almost a
repulsive face. Yet in the eyes especially there is a wild silent
sorrow; an unnamable melancholy, the element of all gentle and fine
affections; giving to the rest the true stamp of nobleness. Laughter
was in this Luther, as we said; but tears also were there. Tears also
were appointed him; tears and hard toil. The basis of his life was
Sadness, Earnestness. In his latter days, after all triumphs and
victories, he expresses himself heartily weary of living; he considers
that God alone can and will regulate the course things are taking, and
that perhaps the Day of Judgment is not far. As for him, he longs for
one thing: that God would release him from his labour, and let him
depart and be at rest. They understand little of the man who cite this
in _dis_credit of him! - I will call this Luther a true Great Man;
great in intellect, in courage, affection and integrity; one of our
most lovable and precious men. Great, not as a hewn obelisk; but as an
Alpine mountain, - so simple, honest, spontaneous, not setting-up to be
great at all; there for quite another purpose than being great! Ah
yes, unsubduable granite, piercing far and wide into the Heavens; yet
in the clefts of it fountains, green beautiful valleys with flowers! A
right Spiritual Hero and Prophet; once more, a true Son of Nature and
Fact, for whom these centuries, and many that are to come yet, will be
thankful to Heaven.

The most interesting phasis which the Reformation anywhere assumes,
especially for us English, is that of Puritanism. In Luther's own
country Protestantism soon dwindled into a rather barren affair: not a
religion or faith, but rather now a theological jangling of argument,
the proper seat of it not the heart; the essence of it sceptical
contention: which indeed has jangled more and more, down to
Voltaireism itself, - through Gustavus-Adolphus contentions onward to
French-Revolution ones! But in our Island there arose a Puritanism,
which even got itself established as a Presbyterianism and National
Church among the Scotch; which came forth as a real business of the
heart; and has produced in the world very notable fruit. In some
senses, one may say it is the only phasis of Protestantism that ever
got to the rank of being a Faith, a true heart-communication with
Heaven, and of exhibiting itself in History as such. We must spare a
few words for Knox; himself a brave and remarkable man; but still more
important as Chief Priest and Founder, which one may consider him to
be, of the Faith that became Scotland's, New England's, Oliver
Cromwell's. History will have something to say about this, for some
time to come!

We may censure Puritanism as we please; and no one of us, I suppose,
but would find it a very rough defective thing. But we, and all men,
may understand that it was a genuine thing; for Nature has adopted it,
and it has grown, and grows. I say sometimes, that all goes by
wager-of-battle in this world; that _strength_, well understood, is
the measure of all worth. Give a thing time; if it can succeed, it is
a right thing. Look now at American Saxondom; and at that little Fact
of the sailing of the Mayflower, two hundred years ago, from Delft
Haven in Holland! Were we of open sense as the Greeks were, we had
found a Poem here; one of Nature's own Poems; such as she writes in
broad facts over great continents. For it was properly the beginning
of America: there were straggling settlers in America before, some
material as of a body was there; but the soul of it was first this.
These poor men, driven-out of their country, not able well to live in
Holland, determine on settling in the New World. Black untamed forests
are there, and wild savage creatures; but not so cruel as Starchamber
hangmen. They thought the Earth would yield them food, if they tilled
honestly; the everlasting heaven would stretch there too, overhead;
they should be left in peace, to prepare for Eternity by living well
in this world of Time; worshipping in what they thought the true, not
the idolatrous way. They clubbed their small means together; hired a
ship, the little ship Mayflower, and made ready to set sail.

In Neal's _History of the Puritans_[5] is an account of the ceremony
of their departure: solemnity, we might call it rather, for it was a
real act of worship. Their minister went down with them to the beach,
and their brethren whom they were to leave behind; all joined in
solemn prayer, That God would have pity on His poor children, and _go_
with them into that waste wilderness, for He also had made that, He
was there also as well as here. - Hah! These men, I think, had a work!
The weak thing, weaker than a child, becomes strong one day, if it be
a true thing. Puritanism was only despicable, laughable then; but
nobody can manage to laugh at it now. Puritanism has got weapons and
sinews; it has fire-arms, war-navies; it has cunning in its ten
fingers, strength in its right arm; it can steer ships, fell forests,
remove mountains; - it is one of the strongest things under the sun at

[5] Neal (London, 1755), i. 490.

In the history of Scotland, too, I can find properly but one epoch: we
may say it contains nothing of world-interest at all but this
Reformation by Knox. A poor barren country, full of continual broils,
dissensions, massacrings; a people in the last state of rudeness and
destitution, little better perhaps than Ireland at this day. Hungry
fierce barons, not so much as able to form any arrangement with each
other _how to divide_ what they fleeced from these poor drudges; but
obliged, as the Columbian Republics are at this day, to make of every
alteration a revolution; no way of changing a ministry but by hanging
the old ministers on gibbets: this is a historical spectacle of no
very singular significance! 'Bravery' enough, I doubt not; fierce
fighting in abundance: but not braver or fiercer than that of their
old Scandinavian Sea-king ancestors; _whose_ exploits we have not
found worth dwelling on! It is a country as yet without a soul:
nothing developed in it but what is rude, external, semi-animal. And
now at the Reformation, the internal life is kindled, as it were,
under the ribs of this outward material death. A cause, the noblest of
causes kindles itself, like a beacon set on high; high as Heaven, yet
attainable from Earth; - whereby the meanest man becomes not a Citizen
only, but a Member of Christ's visible Church; a veritable Hero, if he
prove a true man!

Well; this is what I mean by a whole 'nation of heroes;' a _believing_
nation. There needs not a great soul to make a hero; there needs a
god-created soul which will be true to its origin; that will be a
great soul! The like has been seen, we find. The like will be again
seen, under wider forms than the Presbyterian: there can be no lasting
good done till then. - Impossible! say some. Possible? Has it not
_been_, in this world, as a practised fact? Did Hero-worship fail in
Knox's case? Or are we made of other clay now? Did the Westminster
Confession of Faith add some new property to the soul of man? God made
the soul of man. He did not doom any soul of man to live as a
Hypothesis and Hearsay, in a world filled with such, and with the
fatal work and fruit of such! - -

But to return: This that Knox did for his Nation, I say, we may really
call a resurrection as from death. It was not a smooth business; but
it was welcome surely, and cheap at that price, had it been far
rougher. On the whole, cheap at any price; - as life is. The people
began to _live_: they needed first of all to do that, at what cost and
costs soever. Scotch Literature and Thought, Scotch Industry; James
Watt, David Hume, Walter Scott, Robert Burns: I find Knox and the
Reformation acting in the heart's core of every one of these persons
and phenomena; I find that without the Reformation they would not have
been. Or what of Scotland? The Puritanism of Scotland became that of
England, of New England. A tumult in the High Church of Edinburgh
spread into a universal battle and struggle over all these
realms; - there came out, after fifty years' struggling, what we call
the '_Glorious_ Revolution,' a _Habeas-Corpus_ Act, Free Parliaments,
and much else! - Alas, is it not too true what we said, That many men
in the van do always, like Russian soldiers, march into the ditch of
Schweidnitz, and fill it up with their dead bodies, that the rear may
pass over them dry-shod and gain the honour? How many earnest rugged
Cromwells, Knoxes, poor Peasant Covenants, wrestling, battling for
very life, in rough miry places, have to struggle, and suffer, and
fall, greatly censured, _bemired_, - before a beautiful Revolution of
Eighty-eight can step-over them in official pumps and silk-stockings,
with universal three-times-three!

It seems to me hard measure that this Scottish man, now after
three-hundred years, should have to plead like a culprit before the
world; intrinsically for having been, in such way as it was then
possible to be, the bravest of all Scotchmen! Had he been a poor
Half-and-half, he could have crouched into the corner, like so many
others; Scotland had not been delivered; and Knox had been without
blame. He is the one Scotchman to whom, of all others, his country and
the world owe a debt. He has to plead that Scotland would forgive him
for having been worth to it any million 'unblamable' Scotchmen that
need no forgiveness! He bared his breast to the battle; had to row in
French galleys, wander forlorn in exile, in clouds and storms; was
censured, shot-at through his windows; had a right sore fighting life:
if this world were his place of recompense, he had made but a bad
venture of it. I cannot apologise for Knox. To him it is very
indifferent, these two-hundred-and-fifty years or more, what men say
of him. But we, having got above all those details of his battle, and
living now in clearness on the fruits of his victory, we, for our own
sake, ought to look through the rumours and controversies enveloping
the man, into the man himself.

For one thing, I will remark that this post of Prophet to his Nation
was not of his seeking; Knox had lived forty years quietly obscure,
before he became conspicuous. He was the son of poor parents; had got
a college education; become a Priest; adopted the Reformation, and
seemed well content to guide his own steps by the light of it, nowise
unduly intruding it on others. He had lived as Tutor in gentlemen's
families; preaching when any body of persons wished to hear his
doctrine: resolute he to walk by the truth, and speak the truth when
called to do it; not ambitious of more; not fancying himself capable
of more. In this entirely obscure way he had reached the age of forty;
was with the small body of Reformers who were standing siege in St
Andrew's Castle, - when one day in their chapel, the Preacher after
finishing his exhortation to these fighters in the forlorn hope, said
suddenly, That there ought to be other speakers, that all men who had
a priest's heart and gift in them ought now to speak; - which gifts and
heart one of their own number, John Knox the name of him, had: Had he
not? said the Preacher, appealing to all the audience: what then is
_his_ duty? The people answered affirmatively; it was a criminal
forsaking of his post, if such a man held the word that was in him
silent. Poor Knox was obliged to stand-up; he attempted to reply; he
could say no word; - burst into a flood of tears, and ran out. It is
worth remembering, that scene. He was in grievous trouble for some
days. He felt what a small faculty was his for this great work. He
felt what a baptism he was called to be baptised withal. He 'burst
into tears.'

Our primary characteristic of a Hero, that he is sincere, applies
emphatically to Knox. It is not denied anywhere that this, whatever
might be his other qualities or faults, is among the truest of men.
With a singular instinct he holds to the truth and fact; the truth
alone is there for him, the rest a mere shadow and deceptive
nonentity. However feeble, forlorn the reality may seem, on that and
that only _can_ he take his stand. In the Galleys of the River Loire,
whither Knox and the others, after their Castle of St Andrew's was
taken, had been sent as Galley-slaves, - some officer or priest, one
day, presented them an Image of the Virgin Mother, requiring that
they, the blasphemous heretics, should do it reverence. Mother? Mother
of God? said Knox, when the turn came to him: This is no Mother of
God: this is 'a _pented bredd_,' - a piece of wood, I tell you, with
paint on it! She is fitter for swimming, I think, than for being
worshipped, added Knox, and flung the thing into the river. It was not
very cheap jesting there: but come of it what might, this thing to
Knox was and must continue nothing other than the real truth; it was a
_pented bredd_; worship it he would not.

He told his fellow-prisoners, in this darkest time, to be of courage;
the Cause they had was the true one, and must and would prosper; the
whole world could not put it down. Reality is of God's making; it is
alone strong. How many _pented bredds_, pretending to be real, are
fitter to swim than to be worshipped! - This Knox cannot live but by
fact: he clings to reality as the shipwrecked sailor to the cliff. He
is an instance to us how a man, by sincerity itself, becomes heroic:
it is the grand gift he has. We find in Knox a good honest
intellectual talent, no transcendent one; - a narrow, inconsiderable
man, as compared with Luther: but in heartfelt instinctive adherence
to truth, in _sincerity_, as we say, he has no superior; nay, one
might ask, What equal he has? The heart of him is of the true Prophet
cast. "He lies there," said the Earl of Morton at his grave, "who

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 34 of 43)