Thomas Carlyle.

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

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convulsively the pillars of its Mill; brings huge ruin down, but
ultimately deliverance withal. Of Bentham I meant to say no harm.

But this I do say, and would wish all men to know and lay to heart,
that he who discerns nothing but Mechanism in the Universe has in the
fatalest way missed the secret of the Universe altogether. That all
Godhood should vanish out of men's conception of this Universe seems
to me precisely the most brutal error, - I will not disparage
Heathenism by calling it a Heathen error, - that men could fall into.
It is not true; it is false at the very heart of it. A man who thinks
so will think _wrong_ about all things in the world; this original sin
will vitiate all other conclusions he can form. One might call it the
most lamentable of delusions, - not forgetting Witchcraft itself!
Witchcraft worshipped at least a living Devil: but this worships a
dead iron Devil; no God, not even a Devil! - Whatsoever is noble,
divine, inspired, drops thereby out of life. There remains everywhere
in life a despicable _caput-mortuum_; the mechanical hull, all soul
fled out of it. How can a man act heroically? The 'Doctrine of
Motives' will teach him that it is, under more or less disguise,
nothing but a wretched love of Pleasure, fear of Pain; that Hunger, of
applause, of cash, of whatsoever victual it may be, is the ultimate
fact of man's life. Atheism, in brief; - which does indeed frightfully
punish itself. The man, I say, is become spiritually a paralytic man;
this god-like Universe a dead mechanical steam-engine, all working by
motives, checks, balances, and I know not what; wherein, as in the
detestable belly of some Phalaris'-Bull of his own contriving, he the
poor Phalaris sits miserably dying!

Belief I define to be the healthy act of a man's mind. It is a mysterious
indescribable process, that of getting to believe; - indescribable, as
all vital acts are. We have our mind given us, not that it may cavil
and argue, but that it may see into something, give us clear belief
and understanding about something, whereon we are then to proceed to
act. Doubt, truly, is not itself a crime. Certainly we do not rush
out, clutch-up the first thing we find, and straightway believe that!
All manner of doubt, inquiry, [Greek: skepsis] as it is named, about
all manner of objects, dwells in every reasonable mind. It is the
mystic working of the mind, on the object it is _getting_ to know and
believe. Belief comes out of all this, above ground, like the tree
from its hidden _roots_. But now if, even on common things, we require
that a man keep his doubts _silent_, and not babble of them till they
in some measure become affirmations or denials; how much more in
regard to the highest things, impossible to speak of in words at all!
That a man parade his doubt, and get to imagine that debating and
logic (which means at best only the manner of _telling_ us your
thought, your belief or disbelief, about a thing) is the triumph and
true work of what intellect he has: alas, this is as if you should
_overturn_ the tree, and instead of green boughs, leaves, and fruits,
show us ugly taloned roots turned-up into the air, - and no growth,
only death and misery going on!

For the Scepticism, as I said, is not intellectual only; It is moral
also; a chronic atrophy and disease of the whole soul. A man lives by
believing something; not by debating and arguing about many things. A
sad case for him when all that he can manage to believe is something
he can button in his pocket, and with one or the other organ eat and
digest! Lower than that he will not get. We call those ages in which
he gets so low the mournfulest, sickest, and meanest of all ages. The
world's heart is palsied, sick: how can any limb of it be whole?
Genuine Acting ceases in all departments of the world's work; dextrous
Similitude of Acting begins. The world's wages are pocketed, the
world's work is not done. Heroes have gone out; quacks have come in.
Accordingly, what Century, since the end of the Roman world, which
also was a time of scepticism, simulacra and universal decadence, so
abounds with Quacks as that Eighteenth! Consider them, with their
tumid sentimental vapouring about virtue, benevolence, - the wretched
Quack-squadron, Cagliostro at the head of them! Few men were without
quackery; they had got to consider it a necessary ingredient and
amalgam for truth. Chatham, our brave Chatham himself, comes down to
the House, all wrapt and bandaged; he 'has crawled out in great bodily
suffering,' and so on; - _forgets_, says Walpole, that he is acting the
sick man; in the fire of debate, snatches his arm from the sling, and
oratorically swings and brandishes it! Chatham himself lives the
strangest mimetic life, half hero, half quack, all along. For indeed
the world is full of dupes; and you have to gain the _world's_
suffrage! How the duties of the world will be done in that case, what
quantities of error, which means failure, which means sorrow and
misery, to some and to many, will gradually accumulate in all
provinces of the world's business, we need not compute.

It seems to me, you lay your finger here on the heart of the world's
maladies, when you call it a Sceptical World. An insincere world; a
godless untruth of a world! It is out of this, as I consider, that the
whole tribe of social pestilences, French Revolutions, Chartisms, and
what not, have derived their being, their chief necessity to be. This
must alter. Till this alter, nothing can beneficially alter. My one
hope of the world, my inexpugnable consolation in looking at the
miseries of the world, is that this is altering. Here and there one
does now find a man who knows, as of old, that this world is a Truth,
and no Plausibility and Falsity; that he himself is alive, not dead or
paralytic; and that the world is alive, instinct with Godhood,
beautiful and awful, even as in the beginning of days! One man once
knowing this, many men, all men, must by and by come to know it. It
lies there clear, for whosoever will take the _spectacles_ off his
eyes and honestly look, to know! For such a man, the Unbelieving
Century, with its unblessed Products, is already past: a new century
is already come. The old unblessed Products and Performances, as solid
as they look, are Phantasms, preparing speedily to vanish. To this and
the other noisy, very great-looking Simulacrum with the whole world
huzzahing at its heels, he can say, composedly stepping aside: Thou
art not _true_; thou art not extant, only semblant; go thy way! - Yes,
hollow Formulism, gross Benthamism, and other unheroic atheistic
Insincerity is visibly and even rapidly declining. An unbelieving
Eighteenth Century is but an exception, - such as now and then occurs.
I prophesy that the world will once more become _sincere_; a believing
world: with _many_ Heroes in it, a heroic world! It will then be a
victorious world; never till then!

Or indeed what of the world and its victories? Men speak too much
about the world. Each one of us here, let the world go how it will,
and be victorious or not victorious, has he not a Life of his own to
lead? One Life; a little gleam of Time between two Eternities; no
second chance to us forevermore! It were well for _us_ to live not as
fools and simulacra, but as wise and realities. The world's being
saved will not save us; nor the world's being lost destroy us. We
should look to ourselves: there is great merit here in the 'duty of
staying at home'! And, on the whole, to say truth, I never heard of
'worlds' being 'saved' in any other way. That mania of saving worlds
is itself a piece of the Eighteenth Century with its windy
sentimentalism. Let us not follow it too far. For the saving of the
_world_ I will trust confidently to the Maker of the world; and look a
little to my own saving, which I am more competent to! - In brief, for
the world's sake, and for our own, we will rejoice greatly that
Scepticism, Insincerity, Mechanical Atheism, with all their
poison-dews, are going, and as good as gone. -

Now it was under such conditions, in those times of Johnson, that our
Men of Letters had to live. Times in which there was properly no truth
in life. Old truths had fallen nigh dumb; the new lay yet hidden, not
trying to speak. That Man's Life here below was a Sincerity and Fact,
and would forever continue such, no new intimation, in that dusk of
the world, had yet dawned. No intimation; not even any French
Revolution, - which we define to be a Truth once more, though a Truth
clad in hellfire! How different was the Luther's Pilgrimage, with its
assured goal, from the Johnson's, girt with mere traditions,
suppositions, grown now incredible, unintelligible! Mahomet's Formulas
were of 'wood waxed and oiled,' and could be _burnt_ out of one's way:
poor Johnson's were far more difficult to burn. - The strong man will
ever find _work_, which means difficulty, pain, to the full measure of
his strength. But to make-out a victory, in those circumstances of our
poor Hero as Man of Letters, was perhaps more difficult than in any.
Not obstruction, disorganisation, Bookseller Osborne and
Fourpence-halfpenny a day; not this alone; but the light of his own
soul was taken from him. No landmark on the Earth; and, alas, what is
that to having no loadstar in the Heaven! We need not wonder that none
of those Three men rose to victory. That they fought truly is the
highest praise. With a mournful sympathy we will contemplate, if not
three living victorious Heroes, as I said, the Tombs of three fallen
Heroes! They fell for us too; making a way for us. There are the
mountains which they hurled abroad in their confused War of the
Giants; under which, their strength and life spent, they now lie

* * * * *

I have already written of these three Literary Heroes, expressly or
incidentally; what I suppose is known to most of you; what need not be
spoken or written a second time. They concern us here as the singular
_Prophets_ of that singular age; for such they virtually were; and the
aspect they and their world exhibit, under this point of view, might
lead us into reflections enough! I call them, all three, Genuine Men
more or less; faithfully, for most part unconsciously, struggling to
be genuine, and plant themselves on the everlasting truth of things.
This to a degree that eminently distinguishes them from the poor
artificial mass of their contemporaries; and renders them worthy to be
considered as Speakers, in some measure, of the everlasting truth, as
Prophets in that age of theirs. By Nature herself, a noble necessity
was laid on them to be so. They were men of such magnitude that they
could not live on unrealities, - clouds, froth and all inanity gave-way
under them: there was no footing for them but on firm earth; no rest
or regular motion for them, if they got not footing there. To a
certain extent, they were Sons of Nature once more in an age of
Artifice; once more, Original Men.

As for Johnson, I have always considered him to be, by nature, one of
our great English souls. A strong and noble man; so much left
undeveloped in him to the last: in a kindlier element what might he
not have been, - Poet, Priest, sovereign Ruler! On the whole, a man
must not complain of his 'element,' of his 'time,' or the like; it is
thriftless work doing so. His time is bad: well then, he is there to
make it better! - Johnson's youth was poor, isolated, hopeless, very
miserable. Indeed, it does not seem possible that, in any the
favourablest outward circumstances, Johnson's life could have been
other than a painful one. The world might have had more of profitable
_work_ out of him, or less; but his _effort_ against the world's work
could never have been a light one. Nature, in return for his
nobleness, had said to him, Live in an element of diseased sorrow.
Nay, perhaps the sorrow and the nobleness were intimately and even
inseparably connected with each other. At all events, poor Johnson had
to go about girt with continual hypochondria, physical and spiritual
pain. Like a Hercules with the burning Nessus'-shirt on him, which
shoots-in on him dull incurable misery: the Nessus'-shirt not to be
stript-off, which is his own natural skin! In this manner _he_ had to
live. Figure him there, with his scrofulous diseases, with his great
greedy heart, and unspeakable chaos of thoughts; stalking mournful as
a stranger in this Earth; eagerly devouring what spiritual thing he
could come at: school-languages and other merely grammatical stuff, if
there were nothing better! The largest soul that was in all England;
and provision made for it of 'fourpence-halfpenny a day.' Yet a giant
invincible soul; a true man's. One remembers always that story of the
shoes at Oxford: the rough, seamy-faced, rawboned College Servitor
stalking about, in winter-season, with his shoes worn-out; how the
charitable Gentleman Commoner secretly places a new pair at his door;
and the rawboned Servitor, lifting them, looking at them near, with
his dim eyes, with what thoughts, - pitches them out of window! Wet
feet, mud, frost, hunger or what you will; but not beggary: we cannot
stand beggary! Rude stubborn self-help here; a whole world of squalor,
rudeness, confused misery and want, yet of nobleness and manfulness
withal. It is a type of the man's life, this pitching-away of the
shoes. An original man; - not a secondhand, borrowing or begging man.
Let us stand on our own basis, at any rate! On such shoes as we
ourselves can get. On frost and mud, if you will, but honestly on
that; - on the reality and substance which Nature gives _us_, not on
the semblance, on the thing she has given another than us! -

And yet with all this rugged pride of manhood and self-help was there
ever soul more tenderly affectionate, loyally submissive to what was
really higher than he? Great souls are always loyally submissive,
reverent to what is over them; only small mean souls are otherwise. I
could not find a better proof of what I said the other day, That the
sincere man was by nature the obedient man; that only in a World of
Heroes was there loyal Obedience to the Heroic. The essence of
_originality_ is not that it be _new_: Johnson believed altogether in
the old; he found the old opinions credible for him, fit for him; and
in a right heroic manner lived under them. He is well worth study in
regard to that. For we are to say that Johnson was far other than a
mere man of words and formulas; he was a man of truths and facts. He
stood by the old formulas; the happier was it for him that he could so
stand: but in all formulas that _he_ could stand by, there needed to
be a most genuine substance. Very curious how, in that poor Paper-age,
so barren, artificial, thick-quilted with Pedantries, Hearsays, the
great Fact of this Universe glared in, forever wonderful, indubitable,
unspeakable, divine-infernal, upon this man too! How he harmonised his
Formulas with it, how he managed at all under such circumstances: that
is a thing worth seeing. A thing 'to be looked at with reverence, with
pity, with awe.' That Church of St. Clement Danes, where Johnson still
_worshipped_ in the era of Voltaire, is to me a venerable place.

It was in virtue of his _sincerity_, of his speaking still in some
sort from the heart of Nature, though in the current artificial
dialect, that Johnson was a Prophet. Are not all dialects
'artificial'? Artificial things are not all false; - nay every true
Product of Nature will infallibly _shape_ itself; we may say all
artificial things are, at the starting of them, _true_. What we call
'Formulas' are not in their origin bad; they are indispensably good.
Formula is _method_, habitude; found wherever man is found. Formulas
fashion themselves as Paths do, as beaten Highways, leading towards
some sacred or high object, whither many men are bent. Consider it.
One man, full of heartfelt earnest impulse, finds-out a way of doing
somewhat, - were it of uttering his soul's reverence for the Highest,
were it but of fitly saluting his fellow-man. An inventor was needed
to do that, a _poet_; he has articulated the dim-struggling thought
that dwelt in his own and many hearts. This is his way of doing that;
these are his footsteps, the beginning of a 'Path.' And now see: the
second man travels naturally in the footsteps of his foregoer, it is
the _easiest_ method. In the footsteps of his foregoer; yet with
improvements, with changes where such seem good; at all events with
enlargements, the Path ever _widening_ itself as more travel it; - till
at last there is a broad Highway whereon the whole world may travel
and drive. While there remains a City or Shrine, or any Reality to
drive to, at the farther end, the Highway shall be right welcome! When
the City is gone, we will forsake the Highway. In this manner all
Institutions, Practices, Regulated Things in the world have come into
existence, and gone out of existence. Formulas all begin by being
_full_ of substance; you may call them the _skin_, the articulation
into shape, into limbs and skin, of a substance that is already there:
_they_ had not been there otherwise. Idols, as we said, are not
idolatrous till they become doubtful, empty for the worshipper's
heart. Much as we talk against Formulas, I hope no one of us is
ignorant withal of the high significance of _true_ Formulas; that they
were, and will ever be, the indispensablest furniture of our
habitation in this world. - -

Mark, too, how little Johnson boasts of his 'sincerity.' He has no
suspicion of his being particularly sincere, - of his being
particularly anything! A hard-struggling, weary-hearted man, or
'scholar' as he calls himself, trying hard to get some honest
livelihood in the world, not to starve, but to live - without stealing!
A noble unconsciousness is in him. He does not 'engrave _Truth_ on his
watch-seal;' no, but he stands by truth, speaks by it, works and lives
by it. Thus it ever is. Think of it once more. The man whom Nature has
appointed to do great things is, first of all, furnished with that
openness to Nature which renders him incapable of being _in_sincere!
To his large, open, deep-feeling heart Nature is a Fact: all hearsay
is hearsay; the unspeakable greatness of this Mystery of Life, let him
acknowledge it or not, nay even though he seem to forget it or deny
it, is ever present to _him_, - fearful and wonderful, on this hand and
on that. He has a basis of sincerity; unrecognised, because never
questioned or capable of question. Mirabeau, Mahomet, Cromwell,
Napoleon: all the Great Men I ever heard-of have this as the primary
material of them. Innumerable commonplace men are debating, are
talking everywhere their commonplace doctrines, which they have
learned by logic, by rote, at secondhand: to that kind of man all this
is still nothing. He must have truth; truth which _he_ feels to be
true. How shall he stand otherwise? His whole soul, at all moments, in
all ways, tells him that there is no standing. He is under the noble
necessity of being true. Johnson's way of thinking about this world is
not mine, any more than Mahomet's was: but I recognise the everlasting
element of heart-_sincerity_ in both; and see with pleasure how
neither of them remains ineffectual. Neither of them is as _chaff_
sown; in both of them is something which the seed-field will _grow_.

Johnson was a Prophet to his people; preached a Gospel to them, - as
all like him always do. The highest Gospel he preached we may describe
as a kind of Moral Prudence: 'in a world where much is to be done, and
little is to be known,' see how you will _do_ it! A thing well worth
preaching. 'A world where much is to be done, and little is to be
known:' do not sink yourselves in boundless bottomless abysses of
Doubt, of wretched god-forgetting Unbelief; - you were miserable then,
powerless, mad: how could you _do_ or work at all? Such Gospel Johnson
preached and taught; - coupled, theoretically and practically, with
this other great Gospel, 'Clear your mind of Cant!' Have no trade with
Cant: stand on the cold mud in the frosty weather, but let it be in
your own _real_ torn shoes: 'that will be better for you,' as Mahomet
says! I call this, I call these two things _joined together_, a great
Gospel, the greatest perhaps that was possible at that time.

Johnson's Writings, which once had such currency and celebrity, are
now, as it were, disowned by the young generation. It is not
wonderful; Johnson's opinions are fast becoming obsolete: but his
style of thinking and of living, we may hope, will never become
obsolete. I find in Johnson's Books the indisputablest traces of a
great intellect and great heart: - ever welcome, under what
obstructions and perversions soever. They are _sincere_ words, those
of his; he means things by them. A wondrous buckram style, - the best
he could get to then; a measured grandiloquence, stepping or rather
stalking along in a very solemn way, grown obsolete now; sometimes a
tumid _size_ of phraseology not in proportion to the contents of it:
all this you will put-up with. For the phraseology, tumid or not, has
always _something within it_. So many beautiful styles and books, with
_nothing_ in them; - a man is a _male_factor to the world who writes
such! _They_ are the avoidable kind! - Had Johnson left nothing but his
_Dictionary_, one might have traced there a great intellect, a genuine
man. Looking to its clearness of definition, its general solidity,
honesty, insight, and successful method, it may be called the best of
all Dictionaries. There is in it a kind of architectural nobleness; it
stands there like a great solid square-built edifice, finished,
symmetrically complete: you judge that a true Builder did it.

One word, in spite of our haste, must be granted to poor Bozzy. He
passes for a mean, inflated, gluttonous creature; and was so in many
senses. Yet the fact of his reverence for Johnson will ever remain
noteworthy. The foolish conceited Scotch Laird, the most conceited man
of his time, approaching in such awestruck attitude the great dusty
irascible Pedagogue in his mean garret there: it is a genuine reverence
for Excellence; a _worship_ for Heroes, at a time when neither Heroes
nor worship were surmised to exist. Heroes, it would seem exist always,
and a certain worship of them! We will also take the liberty to deny
altogether that of the witty Frenchman, that no man is a Hero to his
valet-de-chambre. Or if so, it is not the Hero's blame, but the
Valet's: that his soul, namely, is a mean _valet_-soul! He expects his
Hero to advance in royal stage-trappings, with measured step, trains
borne behind him, trumpets sounding before him. It should stand rather,
No man can be a _Grand-Monarque_ to his valet-de-chambre. Strip your
Louis Quatorze of his king-gear, and there _is_ left nothing but a poor
forked radish with a head fantastically carved; - admirable to no valet.
The Valet does not know a Hero when he sees him! Alas, no: it requires
a kind of _Hero_ to do that; - and one of the world's wants, in _this_
as in other senses, is for the most part want of such.

On the whole, shall we not say, that Boswell's admiration was well
bestowed; that he could have found no soul in all England so worthy of
bending down before? Shall we not say, of this great mournful Johnson
too, that he guided his difficult confused existence wisely; led it
_well_, like a right-valiant man? That waste chaos of Authorship by
trade; that waste chaos of Scepticism in religion and politics, in
life-theory and life-practice; in his poverty, in his dust and
dimness, with the sick body and the rusty coat: he made it do for him,
like a brave man. Not wholly without a loadstar in the Eternal; he had
still a loadstar, as the brave all need to have: with his eye set on
that, he would change his course for nothing in these confused
vortices of the lower sea of Time. 'To the Spirit of Lies, bearing
death and hunger, he would in no wise strike his flag.' Brave old
Samuel: _ultimus Romanorum_!

* * * * *

Of Rousseau and his Heroism I cannot say so much. He is not what I
call a strong man. A morbid, excitable, spasmodic man; at best,
intense rather than strong. He had not 'the talent of Silence,' an
invaluable talent; which few Frenchmen, or indeed men of any sort in
these times, excel in! The suffering man ought really 'to consume his
own smoke;' there is no good in emitting _smoke_ till you have made it
into _fire_, - which, in the metaphorical sense too, all smoke is
capable of becoming! Rousseau has not depth or width, not calm force

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 37 of 43)