Thomas Carlyle.

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

. (page 36 of 43)
Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 36 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

other teacher who had something of his own to teach, there was a great
convenience opened: so many thousands eager to learn were already
assembled yonder; of all places the best place for him was that. For
any third teacher it was better still; and grew ever the better, the
more teachers there came. It only needed now that the King took notice
of this new phenomenon; combined or agglomerated the various schools
into one school; gave it edifices, privileges, encouragements, and
named it _Universitas_, or School of all Sciences: the University of
Paris, in its essential characters, was there. The model of all
subsequent Universities; which down even to these days, for six
centuries now, have gone on to found themselves. Such, I conceive, was
the origin of Universities.

It is clear, however, that with this simple circumstance, facility of
getting Books, the whole conditions of the business from top to bottom
were changed. Once invent Printing, you metamorphosed all
Universities, or superseded them! The Teacher needed not now to gather
men personally round him, that he might _speak_ to them what he knew:
print it in a Book, and all learners far and wide, for a trifle, had
it each at his own fireside, much more effectually to learn
it! - Doubtless there is still peculiar virtue in Speech; even writers
of Books may still, in some circumstances, find it convenient to speak
also, - witness our present meeting here! There _is_, one would say,
and must ever remain while man has a tongue, a distinct province for
Speech as well as for Writing and Printing. In regard to all things
this must remain; to Universities among others. But the limits of the
two have nowhere yet been pointed out, ascertained; much less put in
practice: the University which would completely take-in that great new
fact, of the existence of Printed Books, and stand on a clear footing
for the Nineteenth Century as the Paris one did for the Thirteenth,
has not yet come into existence. If we think of it, all that a
University, or final highest School can do for us, is still but what
the first School began doing, - teach us to _read_. We learn to _read_,
in various languages, in various sciences; we learn the alphabet and
letters of all manner of Books. But the place where we go to get
knowledge, even theoretic knowledge, is the Books themselves! It
depends on what we read, after all manner of Professors have done
their best for us. The true University of these days is a Collection
of Books.

But to the Church itself, as I hinted already, all is changed, in its
preaching, in its working, by the introduction of Books. The Church is
the working recognised Union of our Priests or Prophets, of those who
by wise teaching guide the souls of men. While there was no Writing,
even while there was no Easy-writing or _Printing_, the preaching of
the voice was the natural sole method of performing this. But now with
Books! - He that can write a true Book, to persuade England, is not he
the Bishop and Archbishop, the Primate of England and of All England?
I many a time say, the writers of Newspapers, Pamphlets, Poems, Books,
these _are_ the real working effective Church of a modern country. Nay
not only our preaching, but even our worship, is not it too
accomplished by means of Printed Books? The noble sentiment which a
gifted soul has clothed for us in melodious words, which brings melody
into our hearts, - is not this essentially, if we will understand it,
of the nature of worship? There are many, in all countries, who, in
this confused time, have no other method of worship. He who, in any
way, shows us better than we knew before that a lily of the fields is
beautiful, does he not show it us as an effluence of the Fountain of
all Beauty; as the _handwriting_, made visible there, of the great
Maker of the Universe? He has sung for us, made us sing with him, a
little verse of a sacred Psalm. Essentially so. How much more he who
sings, who says, or in any way brings home to our heart the noble
doings, feelings, darings and endurances of a brother man! He has
verily touched our hearts as with a live coal _from the altar_.
Perhaps there is no worship more authentic.

Literature, so far as it is Literature, is an 'apocalypse of Nature,'
a revealing of the 'open secret.' It may well enough be named, in
Fichte's style; a 'continuous revelation' of the Godlike in the
Terrestrial and Common. The Godlike does ever, in very truth, endure
there; is brought out, now in this dialect, now in that, with various
degrees of clearness: all true gifted Singers and Speakers are,
consciously or unconsciously, doing so. The dark stormful indignation
of a Byron, so wayward and perverse, may have touches of it; nay the
withered mockery of a French sceptic, - his mockery of the False, a
love and worship of the True. How much more the sphere-harmony of a
Shakspeare, of a Goethe; the cathedral-music of a Milton! They are
something too, those humble genuine lark-notes of a Burns, - skylark,
starting from the humble furrow, far overhead into the blue depths,
and singing to us so genuinely there! For all true singing is of the
nature of worship; as indeed all true _working_ may be said to
be, - whereof such _singing_ is but the record, and fit melodious
representation, to us. Fragments of a real 'Church Liturgy' and 'Body
of Homilies,' strangely disguised from the common eye, are to be found
weltering in that huge froth-ocean of Printed Speech we loosely call
Literature! Books are our Church too.

Or turning now to the Government of men. Witenagemote, old Parliament,
was a great thing. The affairs of the nation were there deliberated
and decided; what we were to _do_ as a nation. But does not, though
the name Parliament subsists, the parliamentary debate go on now,
everywhere and at all times, in a far more comprehensive way, _out_ of
Parliament altogether? Burke said there were Three Estates in
Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a _Fourth
Estate_ more important far than they all. It is not a figure of
speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact, - very momentous to us
in these times. Literature is our Parliament too. Printing, which
comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to
Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. Writing brings
Printing; brings universal every-day extempore Printing, as we see at
present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes
a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in
law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has,
what revenues or garnitures: the requisite thing is, that he have a
tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is
requisite. The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the
nation: Democracy is virtually _there_. Add only, that whatsoever
power exists will have itself, by and by, organised; working secretly
under bandages, obscurations, obstructions, it will never rest till it
get to work free, unencumbered, visible to all. Democracy virtually
extant will insist on becoming palpably extant. -

On all sides, are we not driven to the conclusion that, of the things
which man can do or make here below, by far the most momentous,
wonderful and worthy are the things we call Books! Those poor bits of
rag-paper with black ink on them; - from the Daily Newspaper to the
sacred Hebrew BOOK, what have they not done, what are they not
doing! - For indeed, whatever be the outward form of the thing (bits of
paper, as we say, and black ink), is it not verily, at bottom, the
highest act of man's faculty that produces a Book? It is the _Thought_
of man; the true thaumaturgic virtue; by which man works all things
whatsoever. All that he does, and brings to pass, is the vesture of a
Thought. This London City, with all its houses, palaces,
steam-engines, cathedrals, and huge immeasurable traffic and tumult,
what is it but a Thought, but millions of Thoughts made into One; - a
huge immeasurable Spirit of a THOUGHT, embodied in brick, in iron,
smoke, dust, Palaces, Parliaments, Hackney Coaches, Katherine Docks,
and the rest of it! Not a brick was made but some man had to _think_
of the making of that brick. - The thing we called 'bits of paper with
traces of black ink,' is the _purest_ embodiment a Thought of man can
have. No wonder it is, in all ways, the activest and noblest.

All this, of the importance and supreme importance of the Man of
Letters in modern Society, and how the Press is to such a degree
superseding the Pulpit, the Senate, the _Senatus Academicus_ and much
else, has been admitted for a good while; and recognised often enough,
in late times, with a sort of sentimental triumph and wonderment. It
seems to me, the Sentimental by and by will have to give place to the
Practical. If Men of Letters _are_ so incalculably influential,
actually performing such work for us from age to age, and even from
day to day, then I think we may conclude that Men of Letters will not
always wander like unrecognised unregulated Ishmaelites among us!
Whatsoever thing, as I said above, has virtual unnoticed power will
castoff its wrappages, bandages, and step-forth one day with palpably
articulated, universally visible power. That one man wear the clothes,
and take the wages, of a function which is done by quite another:
there can be no profit in this; this is not right, it is wrong. And
yet, alas, the _making_ of it right, - what a business, for long times
to come! Sure enough, this that we call Organisation of the Literary
Guild is still a great way off, encumbered with all manner of
complexities. If you asked me what were the best possible organisation
for the Men of Letters in modern society; the arrangement of
furtherance and regulation, grounded the most accurately on the actual
facts of their position and of the world's position, - I should beg to
say that the problem far exceeded my faculty! It is not one man's
faculty; it is that of many successive men turned earnestly upon it,
that will bring-out even an approximate solution. What the best
arrangement were, none of us could say. But if you ask, Which is the
worst? I answer: This which we now have, that Chaos should sit umpire
in it; this is the worst. To the best, or any good one, there is yet a
long way.

One remark I must not omit, That royal or parliamentary grants of
money are by no means the chief thing wanted! To give our Men of
Letters stipends, endowments and all furtherance of cash, will do
little towards the business. On the whole, one is weary of hearing
about the omnipotence of money. I will say rather that, for a genuine
man, it is no evil to be poor; that there ought to be Literary Men
poor, - to show whether they are genuine or not! Mendicant Orders,
bodies of good men doomed to _beg_, were instituted in the Christian
Church; a most natural and even necessary development of the spirit of
Christianity. It was itself founded on Poverty, on Sorrow,
Contradiction, Crucifixion, every species of worldly Distress and
Degradation. We may say, that he who has not known those things, and
learned from them the priceless lessons they have to teach, has missed
a good opportunity of schooling. To beg, and go barefoot, in coarse
woollen cloak with a rope round your loins, and be despised of all the
world, was no beautiful business; - nor an honourable one in any eye,
till the nobleness of those who did so had made it honoured of some!

Begging is not in our course at the present time: but for the rest of
it, who will say that a Johnson is not perhaps the better for being
poor? It is needful for him, at all rates, to know that outward
profit, that success of any kind is _not_ the goal he has to aim at.
Pride, vanity, ill-conditioned egoism of all sorts, are bred in his
heart, as in every heart; need, above all, to be cast-out of his
heart, - to be, with whatever pangs, torn-out of it, cast-forth from
it, as a thing worthless. Byron, born rich and noble, made-out even
less than Burns, poor and plebeian. Who knows but, in that same 'best
possible organisation' as yet far off, Poverty may still enter as an
important element? What if our Men of Letters, Men setting-up to be
Spiritual Heroes, were still _then_, as they now are, a kind of
'involuntary monastic order;' bound still to this same ugly
Poverty, - till they had tried what was in it too, till they had
learned to make it too do for them! Money, in truth, can do much, but
it cannot do all. We must know the province of it, and confine it; and
even spurn it back, when it wishes to get farther.

Besides, were the money-furtherances, the proper season for them, the
fit assigner of them, all settled, - how is the Burns to be recognised
that merits these? He must pass through the ordeal, and prove himself.
_This_ ordeal; this wild welter of a chaos which is called Literary
Life; this too is a kind of ordeal! There is clear truth in the idea
that a struggle from the lower classes of society, towards the upper
regions and rewards of society, must ever continue. Strong men are
born there, who ought to stand elsewhere than there. The manifold,
inextricably complex, universal struggle of these constitutes, and
must constitute, what is called the progress of society. For Men of
Letters, as for all other sorts of men. How to regulate that struggle?
There is the whole question. To leave it as it is, at the mercy of
blind Chance; a whirl of distracted atoms, one cancelling the other;
one of the thousand arriving saved, nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine lost
by the way; your royal Johnson languishing inactive in garrets, or
harnessed to the yoke of Printer Cave; your Burns dying broken-hearted
as a Gauger; your Rousseau driven into mad exasperation, kindling
French Revolutions by his paradoxes: this, as we said, is clearly
enough the _worst_ regulation. The _best_, alas, is far from us!

And yet there can be no doubt but it is coming; advancing on us, as
yet hidden in the bosom of centuries: this is a prophecy one can risk.
For so soon as men get to discern the importance of a thing, they do
infallibly set about arranging it, facilitating, forwarding it; and
rest not till, in some approximate degree, they have accomplished
that. I say, of all Priesthoods, Aristocracies, Governing Classes at
present extant in the world, there is no class comparable for
importance to that Priesthood of the Writers of Books. This is a fact
which he who runs may read, - and draw inferences from. "Literature
will take care of itself," answered Mr Pitt, when applied-to for some
help for Burns. "Yes," adds Mr Southey, "it will take care of itself;
_and of you too_, if you do not look to it!"

The result to individual Men of Letters is not the momentous one; they
are but individuals, an infinitesimal fraction of the great body; they
can struggle on, and live or else die, as they have been wont. But it
deeply concerns the whole society, whether it will set its _light_ on
high places, to walk thereby; or trample it under foot, and scatter it
in all ways of wild waste (not without conflagration), as heretofore!
Light is the one thing wanted for the world. Put wisdom in the head of
the world, the world will fight its battle victoriously, and be the
best world man can make it. I call this anomaly of a disorganic
Literary Class the heart of all other anomalies, at once product and
parent; some good arrangement for that would be as the _punctum
saliens_ of a new vitality and just arrangement for all. Already, in
some European countries, in France, in Prussia, one traces some
beginnings of an arrangement for the Literary Class; indicating the
gradual possibility of such. I believe that it is possible; that it
will have to be possible.

By far the most interesting fact I hear about the Chinese is one on
which we cannot arrive at clearness, but which excites endless
curiosity even in the dim state: this namely, that they do attempt to
make their Men of Letters their Governors! It would be rash to say,
one understood how this was done, or with what degree of success it
was done. All such things must be very unsuccessful; yet a small
degree of success is precious; the very attempt how precious! There
does seem to be, all over China, a more or less active search
everywhere to discover the men of talent that grow up in the young
generation. Schools there are for every one: a foolish sort of
training, yet still a sort. The youths who distinguish themselves in
the lower school are promoted into favourable stations in the higher,
that they may still more distinguish themselves, - forward and forward:
it appears to be out of these that the Official Persons, and incipient
Governors, are taken. These are they whom they _try_ first, whether
they can govern or not. And surely with the best hope: for they are
the men that have already shown intellect. Try them: they have not
governed or administered as yet; perhaps they cannot; but there is no
doubt they _have_ some Understanding, without which no man can!
Neither is Understanding a _tool_, as we are too apt to figure; 'it is
a _hand_ which can handle any tool.' Try these men: they are of all
others the best worth trying. - Surely there is no kind of government,
constitution, revolution, social apparatus or arrangement, that I know
of in this world, so promising to one's scientific curiosity as this.
The man of intellect at the top of affairs: this is the aim of all
constitutions and revolutions, if they have any aim. For the man of
true intellect, as I assert and believe always, is the noblehearted
man withal, the true, just, humane and valiant man. Get _him_ for
governor, all is got; fail to get him, though you had Constitutions
plentiful as blackberries, and a Parliament in every village, there is
nothing yet got! -

These things look strange, truly; and are not such as we commonly
speculate upon. But we are fallen into strange times; these things
will require to be speculated upon; to be rendered practicable, to be
in some way put in practice. These and many others. On all hands of
us, there is the announcement, audible enough, that the old Empire of
Routine has ended; that to say a thing has long been, is no reason for
its continuing to be. The things which have been are fallen into
decay, are fallen into incompetence; large masses of mankind, in every
society of our Europe, are no longer capable of living at all by the
things which have been. When millions of men can no longer by their
utmost exertion gain food for themselves, and 'the third man for
thirty-six weeks each year is short of third-rate potatoes,' the
things which have been must decidedly prepare to alter themselves! - I
will now quit this of the organisation of Men of Letters.

* * * * *

Alas, the evil that pressed heaviest on those Literary Heroes of ours
was not the want of organisation for Men of Letters, but a far deeper
one; out of which, indeed, this and so many other evils for the
Literary Man, and for all men, had, as from their fountain, taken
rise. That our Hero as Man of Letters had to travel without highway,
companionless, through an inorganic chaos, - and to leave his own life
and faculty lying there, as a partial contribution towards _pushing_
some highway through it: this, had not his faculty itself been so
perverted and paralysed, he might have put up with, might have
considered to be but the common lot of Heroes. His fatal misery was
the _spiritual paralysis_, so we may name it, of the Age in which his
life lay; whereby his life too, do what he might, was half-paralysed!
The Eighteenth was a _Sceptical_ Century; in which little word there
is a whole Pandora's Box of miseries. Scepticism means not
intellectual Doubt alone, but moral Doubt; all sorts of _in_fidelity,
insincerity, spiritual paralysis. Perhaps, in few centuries that one
could specify since the world began, was a life of Heroism more
difficult for a man. That was not an age of Faith, - an age of Heroes!
The very possibility of Heroism had been, as it were, formally
abnegated in the minds of all. Heroism was gone forever; Triviality,
Formulism and Commonplace were come forever. The 'age of miracles' had
been, or perhaps had not been; but it was not any longer. An effete
world; wherein Wonder, Greatness, Godhood could not now dwell; - in one
word, a godless world!

How mean, dwarfish are their ways of thinking, in this time, - compared
not with the Christian Shakspeares and Miltons, but with the old Pagan
Skalds, with any species of believing men! The living TREE Igdrasil,
with the melodious prophetic waving of its world-wide boughs,
deep-rooted as Hela, has died-out into the clanking of a
World-MACHINE. 'Tree' and 'Machine': contrast these two things. I, for
my share, declare the world to be no machine! I say that it does not
go by wheel-and-pinion 'motives,' self-interests, checks, balances;
that there is something far other in it than the clank of
spinning-jennies, and parliamentary majorities; and, on the whole,
that it is not a machine at all! - The old Norse Heathen had a truer
notion of God's-world than these poor Machine-Sceptics: the old
Heathen Norse were _sincere_ men. But for these poor Sceptics there
was no sincerity, no truth. Half-truth and hearsay was called truth.
Truth, for most men, meant plausibility; to be measured by the number
of votes you could get. They had lost any notion that sincerity was
possible, or of what sincerity was. How many Plausibilities asking,
with unaffected surprise and the air of offended virtue, What! am not
I sincere? Spiritual Paralysis, I say, nothing left but a Mechanical
life, was the characteristic of that century. For the common man,
unless happily he stood _below_ his century and belonged to another
prior one, it was impossible to be a Believer, a Hero; he lay buried,
unconscious, under these baleful influences. To the strongest man,
only with infinite struggle and confusion was it possible to work
himself half-loose; and lead as it were, in an enchanted, most
tragical way, a spiritual death-in-life, and be a Half-Hero!

Scepticism is the name we give to all this; as the chief symptom, as
the chief origin of all this. Concerning which so much were to be
said! It would take many Discourses, not a small fraction of one
Discourse, to state what one feels about that Eighteenth Century and
its ways. As indeed this, and the like of this, which we now call
Scepticism, is precisely the black malady and life-foe, against which
all teaching and discoursing since man's life began has directed
itself: the battle of Belief against Unbelief is the never-ending
battle! Neither is it in the way of crimination that one would wish to
speak. Scepticism, for that century, we must consider as the decay of
old ways of believing, the preparation afar off for new better and
wider ways, - an inevitable thing. We will not blame men for it; we
will lament their hard fate. We will understand that destruction of
old _forms_ is not destruction of everlasting _substances_; that
Scepticism, as sorrowful and hateful as we see it, is not an end but a

The other day speaking, without prior purpose that way, of Bentham's
theory of man and man's life, I chanced to call it a more beggarly one
than Mahomet's. I am bound to say, now when it is once uttered, that
such is my deliberate opinion. Not that one would mean offence against
the man Jeremy Bentham, or those who respect and believe him. Bentham
himself, and even the creed of Bentham, seems to me comparatively
worthy of praise. It is a determinate _being_ what all the world, in a
cowardly, half-and-half manner, was tending to be. Let us have the
crisis; we shall either have death or the cure. I call this gross,
steam-engine Utilitarianism an approach towards new Faith. It was a
laying down of cant; a saying to oneself: "Well then, this world is a
dead iron machine, the god of it Gravitation and selfish Hunger; let
us see what, by checking and balancing, and good adjustment of tooth
and pinion, can be made of it!" Benthamism has something complete,
manful, in such fearless committal of itself to what it finds true;
you may call it Heroic, though a Heroism with its _eyes_ put out! It
is the culminating point, and fearless ultimatum, of what lay in the
half-and-half state, pervading man's whole existence in that
Eighteenth Century. It seems to me, all deniers of Godhood, and all
lip-believers of it, are bound to be Benthamites, if they have courage
and honesty. Benthamism is an _eyeless_ Heroism: the Human Species,
like a hapless blinded Samson grinding in the Philistine Mill, clasps

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 36 of 43)