Thomas Carlyle.

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

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never feared the face of man." He resembles, more than any of the
moderns, an Old-Hebrew Prophet. The same inflexibility, intolerance,
rigid narrow-looking adherence to God's truth, stern rebuke in the
name of God to all that forsake truth: an Old-Hebrew Prophet in the
guise of an Edinburgh Minister of the Sixteenth Century. We are to
take him for that; not require him to be other.

Knox's conduct to Queen Mary, the harsh visits he used to make in her
own palace, to reprove her there, have been much commented upon. Such
cruelty, such coarseness fills us with indignation. On reading the
actual narrative of the business, what Knox said, and what Knox meant,
I must say one's tragic feeling is rather disappointed. They are not
so coarse, these speeches; they seem to me about as fine as the
circumstances would permit! Knox was not there to do the courtier; he
came on another errand. Whoever, reading these colloquies of his with
the Queen, thinks they are vulgar insolences of a plebeian priest to a
delicate high lady, mistakes the purport and essence of them
altogether. It was unfortunately not possible to be polite with the
Queen of Scotland, unless one proved untrue to the Nation and Cause of
Scotland. A man who did not wish to see the land of his birth made a
hunting-field for intriguing ambitious Guises, and the Cause of God
trampled underfoot of Falsehoods, Formulas and the Devil's Cause, had
no method of making himself agreeable! "Better that women weep," said
Morton, "than that bearded men be forced to weep." Knox was the
constitutional opposition-party in Scotland: the Nobles of the
country, called by their station to take that post, were not found in
it; Knox had to go or no one. The hapless Queen; - but the still more
hapless Country, if _she_ were made happy! Mary herself was not
without sharpness enough, among her other qualities: "Who are you,"
said she once, "that presume to school the nobles and sovereign of
this realm?" - "Madam, a subject born within the same," answered he.
Reasonably answered! If the 'subject' have truth to speak, it is not
the 'subject's' footing that will fail him here. -

We blame Knox for his intolerance. Well, surely it is good that each
of us be as tolerant as possible. Yet, at bottom, after all the talk
there is and has been about it, what is tolerance? Tolerance has to
tolerate the _un_essential; and to see well what that is. Tolerance
has to be noble, measured, just in its very wrath, when it can
tolerate no longer. But, on the whole, we are not altogether here to
tolerate! We are here to resist, to control and vanquish withal. We do
not 'tolerate' Falsehoods, Thieveries, Iniquities, when they fasten on
us; we say to them, Thou art false, thou art not tolerable! We are
here to extinguish Falsehoods, and put an end to them, in some wise
way! I will not quarrel so much with the way; the doing of the thing
is our great concern. In this sense Knox was, full surely, intolerant.

A man sent to row in French Galleys, and suchlike, for teaching the
Truth in his own land, cannot always be in the mildest humour! I am
not prepared to say that Knox had a soft temper; nor do I know that he
had what we call an ill-temper. An ill nature he decidedly had not.
Kind honest affections dwell in the much-enduring, hard-worn,
ever-battling man. That he _could_ rebuke Queens, and had such weight
among those proud turbulent Nobles, proud enough whatever else they
were; and could maintain to the end a kind of virtual Presidency and
Sovereignty in that wild realm, he who was only 'a subject born within
the same:' this of itself will prove to us that he was found, close at
hand, to be no mean acrid man; but at heart a healthful, strong,
sagacious man. Such alone can bear rule in that kind. They blame him
for pulling-down cathedrals, and so forth, as if he were a seditious
rioting demagogue: precisely the reverse is seen to be the fact, in
regard to cathedrals and the rest of it, if we examine! Knox wanted no
pulling-down of stone edifices; he wanted leprosy and darkness to be
thrown out of the lives of men. Tumult was not his element; it was the
tragic feature of his life that he was forced to dwell so much in
that. Every such man is the born enemy of Disorder; hates to be in it:
but what then? Smooth Falsehood is not Order; it is the general
sum-total of _Dis_order. Order is _Truth_, - each thing standing on the
basis that belongs to it: Order and Falsehood cannot subsist together.

Withal, unexpectedly enough, this Knox has a vein of drollery in him;
which I like much, in combination with his other qualities. He has a
true eye for the ridiculous. His _History_, with its rough
earnestness, is curiously enlivened with this. When the two Prelates,
entering Glasgow Cathedral, quarrel about precedence; march rapidly
up, take to hustling one another, twitching one another's rochets, and
at last flourishing their crosiers like quarter-staves, it is a great
sight for him everyway! Not mockery, scorn, bitterness alone; though
there is enough of that too. But a true, loving, illuminating laugh
mounts-up over the earnest visage; not a loud laugh; you would say, a
laugh in the _eyes_ most of all. An honest-hearted, brotherly man;
brother to the high, brother also to the low; sincere in his sympathy
with both. He has his pipe of Bourdeaux too, we find, in that old
Edinburgh house of his; a cheery social man, with faces that loved
him! They go far wrong who think this Knox was a gloomy, spasmodic,
shrieking fanatic. Not at all: he is one of the solidest of men.
Practical, cautious-hopeful, patient; a most shrewd, observing,
quietly discerning man. In fact, he has very much the type of
character we assign to the Scotch at present: a certain sardonic
taciturnity is in him; insight enough; and a stouter heart than he
himself knows of. He has the power of holding his peace over many
things which do not vitally concern him, - "They? what are they?" But
the thing which does vitally concern him, that thing he will speak of;
and in a tone the whole world shall be made to hear: all the more
emphatic for his long silence.

This Prophet of the Scotch is to me no hateful man! - He had a sore
fight of an existence: wrestling with Popes and Principalities; in
defeat, contention, life-long struggle; rowing as a galley-slave,
wandering as an exile. A sore fight: but he won it. "Have you hope?"
they asked him in his last moment, when he could no longer speak. He
lifted his finger, 'pointed upwards with his finger,' and so died.
Honour to him! His works have not died. The letter of his work dies,
as of all men's; but the spirit of it never.

One word more as to the letter of Knox's work. The unforgivable
offence in him is, that he wished to set-up Priests over the head of
Kings. In other words he strove to make the Government of Scotland a
_Theocracy_. This indeed is properly the sum of his offences, the
essential sin; for which what pardon can there be? It is most true, he
did, at bottom, consciously or unconsciously, mean a Theocracy, or
Government of God. He did mean that Kings and Prime Ministers, and all
manner of persons, in public or private, diplomatising or whatever
else they might be doing, should walk according to the Gospel of
Christ, and understand that this was their Law, supreme over all laws.
He hoped once to see such a thing realised; and the Petition, _Thy
Kingdom come_, no longer an empty word. He was sore grieved when he
saw greedy worldly Barons clutch hold of the Church's property; when
he expostulated that it was not secular property, that it was
spiritual property, and should be turned to _true_ churchly uses,
education, schools, worship; - and the Regent Murray had to answer,
with a shrug of the shoulders, "It is a devout imagination!" This was
Knox's scheme of right and truth; this he zealously endeavoured after,
to realise it. If we think this scheme of truth was too narrow, was
not true, we may rejoice that he could not realise it; that it
remained after two centuries of effort, unrealisable, and is a 'devout
imagination' still. But how shall we blame _him_ for struggling to
realise it? Theocracy, Government of God, is precisely the thing to be
struggled for! All Prophets, zealous Priests, are there for that
purpose. Hildebrand wished a Theocracy; Cromwell wished it, fought for
it; Mahomet attained it. Nay, is it not what all zealous men, whether
called Priests, Prophets, or whatsoever else called, do essentially
wish, and must wish? That right and truth, or God's Law, reign supreme
among men, this is the Heavenly Ideal (well named in Knox's time, and
namable in all times, a revealed 'Will of God') towards which the
Reformer will insist that all be more and more approximated. All true
Reformers, as I said, are by the nature of them Priests, and strive
for a Theocracy.

How far such Ideals can ever be introduced into Practice, and at what
point our impatience with their non-introduction ought to begin, is
always a question. I think we may say safely, Let them introduce
themselves as far as they can contrive to do it! If they are the true
faith of men, all men ought to be more or less impatient always where
they are not found introduced. There will never be wanting Regent
Murrays enough to shrug their shoulders, and say, "A devout
imagination!" We will praise the Hero-priest, rather, who does what is
in _him_ to bring them in; and wears out, in toil, calumny,
contradiction, a noble life, to make a God's Kingdom of this Earth.
The Earth will not become too godlike!



[_Tuesday, 19th May 1840_]

Hero-gods, Prophets, Poets, Priests are forms of Heroism that belong
to the old ages, make their appearance in the remotest times; some of
them have ceased to be possible long since, and cannot any more show
themselves in this world. The Hero as _Man of Letters_, again, of
which class we are to speak today, is altogether a product of these
new ages; and so long as the wondrous art of _Writing_, or of
Ready-writing which we call _Printing_, subsists, he may be expected
to continue, as one of the main forms of Heroism for all future ages.
He is, in various respects, a very singular phenomenon.

He is new, I say; he has hardly lasted above a century in the world
yet. Never, till about a hundred years ago, was there seen any figure
of a Great Soul living apart in that anomalous manner; endeavouring to
speak-forth the inspiration that was in him by Printed Books, and find
place and subsistence by what the world would please to give him for
doing that. Much had been sold and bought, and left to make its own
bargain in the marketplace; but the inspired wisdom of a Heroic Soul
never till then, in that naked manner. He, with his copy-rights and
copy-wrongs, in his squalid garret, in his rusty coat; ruling (for
this is what he does), from his grave, after death, whole nations and
generations who would, or would not, give him bread while living, - is
a rather curious spectacle! Few shapes of Heroism can be more

Alas, the Hero from of old has had to cramp himself into strange
shapes: the world knows not well at any time what to do with him, so
foreign is his aspect in the world! It seemed absurd to us, that men,
in their rude admiration, should take some wise great Odin for a god,
and worship him as such, some wise great Mahomet for one god-inspired,
and religiously follow his Law for twelve centuries: but that a wise
great Johnson, a Burns, a Rousseau, should be taken for some idle
non-descript, extant in the world to amuse idleness, and have a few
coins and applauses thrown in, that he might live thereby; _this_
perhaps, as before hinted, will one day seem a still absurder phasis
of things! - Meanwhile, since it is the spiritual always that
determines the material, this same Man-of-Letters Hero must be
regarded as our most important modern person. He, such as he may be,
is the soul of all. What he teachers, the whole world will do and
make. The world's manner of dealing with him is the most significant
feature of the world's general position. Looking well at his life, we
may get a glance, as deep as is readily possible for us, into the life
of those singular centuries which have produced him, in which we
ourselves live and work.

There are genuine Men of Letters, and not genuine; as in every kind
there is a genuine and a spurious. If _Hero_ be taken to mean genuine,
then I say the Hero as Man of Letters will be found discharging a
function for us which is ever honourable, ever the highest; and was
once well known to be the highest. He is uttering-forth, in such a way
as he has, the inspired soul of him; all that a man, in any case, can
do. I say _inspired_; for what we call 'originality,' 'sincerity,'
'genius,' the heroic quality we have no good name for, signifies that.
The Hero is he who lives in the inward sphere of things, in the True,
Divine and Eternal, which exists always, unseen to most, under the
Temporary, Trivial: his being is in that; he declares that abroad, by
act or speech as it may be, in declaring himself abroad. His life, as
we said before, is a piece of the everlasting heart of Nature herself:
all men's life is, - but the weak many know not the fact, and are
untrue to it, in most times; the strong few are strong, heroic,
perennial, because it cannot be hidden from them. The Man of Letters,
like every Hero, is there to proclaim this in such sort as he can.
Intrinsically it is the same function which the old generations named
a man Prophet, Priest, Divinity for doing; which all manner of Heroes,
by speech or by act, are sent into the world to do.

Fichte the German Philosopher delivered, some forty years ago at
Erlangen, a highly remarkable Course of Lectures on this subject:
'_Ueber das Wesen des Gelehrten_, On the Nature of the Literary Man.'
Fichte, in conformity with the Transcendental Philosophy, of which he
was a distinguished teacher, declares first: That all things which we
see or work with in this Earth, especially we ourselves and all
persons, are as a kind of vesture or sensuous Appearance: that under
all there lies, as the essence of them, what he calls the 'Divine Idea
of the World;' this is the Reality which 'lies at the bottom of all
Appearance.' To the mass of men no such Divine Idea is recognisable in
the world; they live merely, says Fichte, among the superficialities,
practicalities and shows of the world, not dreaming that there is
anything divine under them. But the Man of Letters is sent hither
specially that he may discern for himself, and make manifest to us,
this same Divine Idea: in every new generation it will manifest itself
in a new dialect; and he is there for the purpose of doing that. Such
is Fichte's phraseology; with which we need not quarrel. It is his way
of naming what I here, by other words, am striving imperfectly to
name; what there is at present no name for: The unspeakable Divine
Significance, full of splendour, of wonder and terror, that lies in
the being of every man, of every thing, - the Presence of the God who
made every man and thing. Mahomet taught this in his dialect; Odin in
his: it is the thing which all thinking hearts, in one dialect or
another, are here to teach.

Fichte calls the Man of Letters, therefore, a Prophet, or as he
prefers to phrase it, a Priest, continually unfolding the Godlike to
men: Men of Letters are a perpetual Priesthood, from age to age,
teaching all men that a God is still present in their life; that all
'Appearance,' whatsoever we see in the world, is but as a vesture for
the 'Divine Idea of the World,' for 'that which lies at the bottom of
Appearance.' In the true Literary Man there is thus ever, acknowledged
or not by the world, a sacredness: he is the light of the world; the
world's Priest: - guiding it, like a sacred Pillar of Fire, in its dark
pilgrimage through the waste of Time. Fichte discriminates with sharp
zeal the _true_ Literary Man, what we here call the _Hero_ as Man of
Letters, from multitudes of false unheroic. Whoever lives not wholly
in this Divine Idea, or living partially in it, struggles not, as for
the one good, to live wholly in it, - he is, let him live where else he
like, in what pomps and prosperities he like, no Literary Man; he is,
says Fichte, a 'Bungler, _StГјmper_.' Or at best, if he belong to the
prosaic provinces, he may be a 'Hodman;' Fichte even calls him
elsewhere a 'Nonentity,' and has in short no mercy for him, no wish
that _he_ should continue happy among us! This is Fichte's notion of
the Man of Letters. It means, in its own form, precisely what we here

In this point of view, I consider that, for the last hundred years, by
far the notablest of all Literary Men is Fichte's countryman, Goethe.
To that man too, in a strange way, there was given what we may call a
life in the Divine Idea of the World; vision of the inward divine
mystery: and strangely, out of his Books, the world rises imaged once
more as godlike, the workmanship and temple of a God. Illuminated all,
not in fierce impure fire-splendour as of Mahomet, but in mild
celestial radiance; - really a Prophecy in these most unprophetic
times; to my mind, by far the greatest, though one of the quietest,
among all the great things that have come to pass in them. Our chosen
specimen of the Hero as Literary Man would be this Goethe. And it were
a very pleasant plan for me here to discourse of his heroism: for I
consider him to be a true Hero; heroic in what he said and did, and
perhaps still more in what he did not say and did not do; to me a
noble spectacle: a great heroic ancient man, speaking and keeping
silence as an ancient Hero, in the guise of a most modern, high-bred,
high-cultivated Man of Letters! We have had no such spectacle; no man
capable of affording such, for the last hundred-and-fifty years.

But at present, such is the general state of knowledge about Goethe,
it were worse than useless to attempt speaking of him in this case.
Speak as I might, Goethe, to the great majority of you would remain
problematic, vague; no impression but a false one could be realised.
Him we must leave to future times. Johnson, Burns, Rousseau, three
great figures from a prior time, from a far inferior state of
circumstances, will suit us better here. Three men of the Eighteenth
Century; the conditions of their life far more resemble what those of
ours still are in England, than what Goethe's in Germany were. Alas,
these men did not conquer like him; they fought bravely, and fell.
They were not heroic bringers of the light, but heroic seekers of it.
They lived under galling conditions; struggling as under mountains of
impediment, and could not unfold themselves into clearness, or
victorious interpretation of that 'Divine Idea.' It is rather the
_Tombs_ of three Literary Heroes that I have to show you. There are
the monumental heaps, under which three spiritual giants lie buried.
Very mournful, but also great and full of interest for us. We will
linger by them for a while.

Complaint is often made, in these times, of what we call the
disorganised condition of society: how ill many arranged forces of
society fulfil their work; how many powerful forces are seen working
in a wasteful, chaotic, altogether unarranged manner. It is too just a
complaint, as we all know. But perhaps if we look at this of Books and
the Writers of Books, we shall find here, as it were, the summary of
all other disorganisation; - a sort of _heart_, from which, and to
which, all other confusion circulates in the world! Considering what
Book-writers do in the world, and what the world does with
Book-writers, I should say, It is the most anomalous thing the world
at present has to show. - We should get into a sea far beyond sounding,
did we attempt to give account of this: but we must glance at it for
the sake of our subject. The worst element in the life of these three
Literary Heroes was, that they found their business and position such
a chaos. On the beaten road there is tolerable travelling; but it is
sore work, and many have to perish, fashioning a path through the

Our pious Fathers, feeling well what importance lay in the speaking of
man to men, founded churches, made endowments, regulations; everywhere
in the civilised world there is a Pulpit, environed with all manner of
complex dignified appurtenances and furtherances, that therefrom a man
with the tongue may, to best advantage, address his fellow-men. They
felt that this was the most important thing; that without this there
was no good thing. It is a right pious work, that of theirs; beautiful
to behold! But now with the art of Writing, with the art of Printing,
a total change has come over that business. The Writer of a Book, is
not he a Preacher preaching not to this parish or that, on this day or
that, but to all men in all times and places? Surely it is of the last
importance that _he_ do his work right, whoever do it wrong; - that the
_eye_ report not falsely, for then all the other members are astray!
Well; how he may do his work, whether he do it right or wrong, or do
it at all, is a point which no man in the world has taken the pains to
think of. To a certain shopkeeper, trying to get some money for his
books, if lucky, he is of some importance; to no other man of any.
Whence he came, whither he is bound, by what ways he arrived, by what
he might be furthered on his course, no one asks. He is an accident in
society. He wanders like a wild Ishmaelite, in a world of which he is
as the spiritual light, either the guidance or the misguidance!

Certainly the art of writing is the most miraculous of all things man
has devised. Odin's _Runes_ were the first form of the work of a Hero;
_Books_, written words, are still miraculous _Runes_, of the latest
form! In Books lies the _soul_ of the whole Past Time; the articulate
audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it
has altogether vanished like a dream. Mighty fleets and armies,
harbours and arsenals, vast cities, high-domed, many-engined, - they
are precious, great: but what do they become? Agamemnon, the many
Agamemnons, Pericleses, and their Greece; all is gone now to some
ruined fragments, dumb mournful wrecks and blocks: but the Books of
Greece! There Greece, to every thinker, still very literally lives;
can be called-up again into life. No magic _Rune_ is stranger than a
Book. All that Mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying
as in magic preservation in the pages of Books. They are the chosen
possession of men.

Do not Books still accomplish _miracles_ as _Runes_ were fabled to do?
They persuade men. Not the wretchedest circulating-library novel,
which foolish girls thumb and con in remote villages but will help to
regulate the actual practical weddings and households of those foolish
girls. So 'Celia' felt, so 'Clifford' acted: the foolish Theorem of
Life, stamped into those young brains, comes out as a solid Practice
one day. Consider whether any _Rune_ in the wildest imagination of
Mythologist ever did such wonders as, on the actual firm Earth, some
Books have done! What built St Paul's Cathedral? Look at the heart of
the matter, it was that divine Hebrew BOOK, - the word partly of the
man Moses, an outlaw tending his Midianitish herds, four thousand
years ago, in the wildernesses of Sinai! It is the strangest of
things, yet nothing is truer. With the art of Writing, of which
Printing is a simple, an inevitable and comparatively insignificant
corollary, the true reign of miracles for mankind commenced. It
related, with a wondrous new contiguity and perpetual closeness, the
Past and Distant with the Present in time and place; all times and all
places with this our actual Here and Now. All things were altered for
men; all modes of important work of men: teaching, preaching,
governing, and all else.

To look at Teaching, for instance. Universities are a notable,
respectable product of the modern ages. Their existence too is
modified, to the very basis of it, by the existence of Books.
Universities arose while there were yet no Books procurable; while a
man, for a single Book, had to give an estate of land. That, in those
circumstances, when a man had some knowledge to communicate, he should
do it by gathering the learners round him, face to face, was a
necessity for him. If you wanted to know what Abelard knew, you must
go and listen to Abelard. Thousands, as many as thirty-thousand, went
to hear Abelard and that metaphysical theology of his. And now for any

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 35 of 43)