Thomas Carlyle.

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

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'measure by a scale of perfection the meagre product of reality' in
this poor world of ours. We will esteem him no wise man; we will
esteem him a sickly, discontented, foolish man. And yet, on the other
hand, it is never to be forgotten that Ideals do exist; that if they
be not approximated to at all, the whole matter goes to wreck!
Infallibly. No bricklayer builds a wall _perfectly_ perpendicular,
mathematically this is not possible; a certain degree of
perpendicularity suffices him; and he, like a good bricklayer, who
must have done with his job, leaves it so. And yet if he sway _too
much_ from the perpendicular; above all, if he throw plummet and level
quite away from him, and pile brick on brick heedless, just as it
comes to hand - ! Such bricklayer, I think, is in a bad way. _He_ has
forgotten himself: but the Law of Gravitation does not forget to act
on him; he and his wall rush-down into confused welter of ruin! -

This is the history of all rebellions, French Revolutions, social
explosions in ancient or modern times. You have put the too _Un_able
man at the head of affairs! The too ignoble, unvaliant, fatuous man.
You have forgotten that there is any rule, or natural necessity
whatever, of putting the Able Man there. Brick must lie on brick as it
may and can. Unable Simulacrum of Ability, _quack_, in a word, must
adjust himself with quack, in all manner of administration of human
things; - which accordingly lie unadministered, fermenting into
unmeasured masses of failure, of indigent misery: in the outward, and
in the inward or spiritual, miserable millions stretch-out the hand
for their due supply, and it is not there. The 'law of gravitation'
acts; Nature's laws do none of them forget to act. The miserable
millions burst-forth into Sansculottism, or some other sort of
madness; bricks and bricklayers lie as a fatal chaos! -

Much sorry stuff, written some hundred years ago or more, about the
'Divine right of Kings,' moulders unread now in the Public Libraries
of this country. Far be it from us to disturb the calm process by
which it is disappearing harmlessly from the earth, in those
repositories! At the same time, not to let the immense rubbish go
without leaving us, as it ought, some soul of it behind - I will say
that it did mean something; something true, which it is important for
us and all men to keep in mind. To assert that in whatever man you
chose to lay hold of (by this or the other plan of clutching at him);
and clapt a round piece of metal on the head of, and called
King, - there straightway came to reside a divine virtue, so that _he_
became a kind of God, and a Divinity inspired him with faculty and
right to rule over you to all lengths: this, - what can we do with this
but leave it to rot silently in the Public Libraries? But I will say
withal, and that is what these Divine-right men meant, That in Kings,
and in all human Authorities, and relations that men god-created can
form among each other, there is verily either a Divine Right or else a
Diabolic Wrong; one or the other of these two! For it is false
altogether, what the last Sceptical Century taught us, that this world
is a steam-engine. There is a God in this world; and a God's-sanction,
or else the violation of such, does look-out from all ruling and
obedience, from all moral acts of men. There is no act more moral
between men than that of rule and obedience. Woe to him that claims
obedience when it is not due; woe to him that refuses it when it is!
God's law is in that, I say, however the Parchment-laws may run: there
is a Divine Right or else a Diabolic Wrong at the heart of every claim
that one man makes upon another.

It can do none of us harm to reflect on this: in all the relations of
life it will concern us; in Loyalty and Royalty, the highest of these.
I esteem the modern error, That all goes by self-interest and the
checking and balancing of greedy knaveries, and that, in short, there
is nothing divine whatever in the association of men, a still more
despicable error, natural as it is to an unbelieving century, than
that of a 'divine right' in people _called_ Kings. I say, Find me the
true _K√ґnning_, King, or Able-man, and he _has_ a divine right over
me. That we knew in some tolerable measure how to find him, and that
all men were ready to acknowledge his divine right when found: this is
precisely the healing which a sick world is everywhere, in these ages,
seeking after! The true King, as guide of the practical, has ever
something of the Pontiff in him, - guide of the spiritual, from which
all practice has its rise. This too is a true saying, That the _King_
is head of the _Church_. - But we will leave the Polemic stuff of a
dead century to lie quiet on its bookshelves.

* * * * *

Certainly it is a fearful business, that of having your Ableman to
_seek_, and not knowing in what manner to proceed about it! That is
the world's sad predicament in these times of ours. They are times of
Revolution, and have long been. The bricklayer with his bricks, no
longer heedful of plummet or the law of gravitation, have toppled,
tumbled, and it all welters as we see! But the beginning of it was not
the French Revolution; that is rather the _end_, we can hope. It were
truer to say, the _beginning_ was three centuries farther back: in the
Reformation of Luther. That the thing which still called itself
Christian Church had become a Falsehood, and brazenly went about
pretending to pardon men's sins for metallic coined money, and to do
much else which in the everlasting truth of Nature it did _not_ now
do: here lay the vital malady. The inward being wrong, all outward
went ever more and more wrong. Belief died away; all was Doubt,
Disbelief. The builder _cast away_ his plummet; said to himself, "What
is gravitation? Brick lies on brick there!" Alas, does it not still
sound strange to many of us, the assertion that there is a God's truth
in the business of god-created men; that all is not a kind of grimace,
an 'expediency,' diplomacy, one knows not what! -

From that first necessary assertion of Luther's, "You, self-styled
_Papa_, you are no Father in God at all; you are - a Chimera, whom I
know not how to name in polite language!" - from that onwards to the
shout which rose round Camille Desmoulins in the Palais-Royal, "_Aux
armes!_" when the people had burst-up against _all_ manner of
Chimeras, - I find a natural historical sequence. That shout too, so
frightful, half-infernal, was a great matter. Once more the voice of
awakened nations; starting confusedly, as out of nightmare, as out of
death-sleep, into some dim feeling that Life was real; that
God's-world was not an expediency and diplomacy! Infernal; - yes, since
they would not have it otherwise. Infernal, since not celestial or
terrestrial! - Hollowness, insincerity _has_ to cease; - sincerity of
some sort has to begin. Cost what it may, reigns of terror, horrors of
French Revolution or what else, we have to return to truth. Here is a
Truth, as I said: a Truth clad in hell-fire, since they would not but
have it so! -

A common theory among considerable parties of men in England and
elsewhere used to be, that the French Nation had, in those days, as it
were gone _mad_; that the French Revolution was a general act of
insanity, a temporary conversion of France and large sections of the
world into a kind of Bedlam. The Event had risen and raged; but was a
madness and nonentity, - gone now happily into the region of Dreams and
the Picturesque! - To such comfortable philosophers, the Three Days of
July 1830 must have been a surprising phenomenon. Here is the French
Nation risen again, in musketry and death-struggle, out shooting and
being shot, to make that same mad French Revolution good! The sons and
grandsons of those men, it would seem, persist in the enterprise: they
do not disown it; they will have it made good; will have themselves
shot, if it be not made good! To philosophers who had made-up their
life-system on that 'madness' quietus, no phenomenon could be more
alarming. Poor Niebuhr, they say, the Prussian Professor and
Historian, fell broken-hearted in consequence; sickened, if we can
believe it, and died of the Three Days! It was surely not a very
heroic death; - little better than Racine's, dying because Louis
Fourteenth looked sternly on him once. The world had stood some
considerable shocks, in its time; might have been expected to survive
the Three Days too, and be found turning on its axis after even them!
The Three Days told all mortals that the old French Revolution, mad as
it might look, was not a transitory ebullition of Bedlam, but a
genuine product of this Earth where we all live; that it was verily a
Fact, and that the world in general would do well everywhere to regard
it as such.

Truly, without the French Revolution, one would not know what to make
of an age like this at all. We will hail the French Revolution, as
shipwrecked mariners might the sternest rock, in a world otherwise all
of baseless sea and waves. A true Apocalypse, though a terrible one,
to this false withered artificial time; testifying once more that
Nature is _preter_natural; if not divine, then diabolic; that
Semblance is not reality; that it has to become reality, or the world
will take-fire under it, - burn _it_ into what it is, namely Nothing!
Plausibility has ended; empty Routine has ended; much has ended. This,
as with a Trump of Doom, has been proclaimed to all men. They are the
wisest who will learn it soonest. Long confused generations before it
be learned; peace impossible till it be! The earnest man, surrounded,
as ever, with a world of inconsistencies, can await patiently,
patiently strive to do _his_ work, in the midst of that. Sentence of
Death is written down in Heaven against all that; sentence of Death is
now proclaimed on the Earth against it: this he with his eyes may see.
And surely, I should say, considering the other side of the matter,
what enormous difficulties lie there, and how fast, fearfully fast, in
all countries, the inexorable demand for solution of them is pressing
on, - he may easily find other work to do than labouring in the
Sansculottic province at this time of day!

To me, in these circumstances, that of 'Hero-worship' becomes a fact
inexpressibly precious; the most solacing fact one sees in the world
at present. There is an everlasting hope in it for the management of
the world. Had all traditions, arrangements, creeds, societies that
men ever instituted, sunk away, this would remain. The certainty of
Heroes being sent us; our faculty, our necessity, to reverence Heroes
when sent: it shines like a polestar through smoke-clouds,
dust-clouds, and all manner of down-rushing and conflagration.

Hero-worship would have sounded very strange to those workers and
fighters in the French Revolution. Not reverence for Great Men; not
any hope or belief, or even wish, that Great Men could again appear in
the world! Nature, turned into a 'Machine,' was as if effete now;
could not any longer produce Great Men: - I can tell her, she may
give-up the trade altogether, then; we cannot do without Great
Men! - But neither have I any quarrel with that of 'Liberty and
Equality;' with the faith that, wise great men being impossible, a
level immensity of foolish small men would suffice. It was a natural
faith then and there. "Liberty and Equality; no Authority needed any
longer. Hero-worship, reverence for _such_ Authorities, has proved
false, is itself a falsehood; no more of it! We have had such
_forgeries_, we will now trust nothing. So many base plated coins
passing in the market, the belief has now become common that no gold
any longer exists, - and even that we can do very well without gold!" I
find this, among other things, in that universal cry of Liberty and
Equality; and find it very natural, as matters then stood.

And yet surely it is but the _transition_ from false to true.
Considered as the whole truth, it is false altogether; - the product of
entire sceptical blindness, as yet only _struggling_ to see.
Hero-worship exists forever, and everywhere: not Loyalty alone; it
extends from divine adoration down to the lowest practical regions of
life. 'Bending before men,' if it is not to be a mere empty grimace,
better dispensed with than practised, is Hero-worship, - a recognition
that there does dwell in that presence of our brother something
divine; that every created man, as Novalis said, is a 'revelation in
the Flesh.' They were Poets too, that devised all those graceful
courtesies which make life noble! Courtesy is not a falsehood or
grimace; it need not be such. And Loyalty, religious Worship itself,
are still possible; nay still inevitable.

May we not say, moreover, while so many of our late Heroes have worked
rather as revolutionary men, that nevertheless every Great Man, every
genuine man, is by the nature of him a son of Order, not of Disorder?
It is a tragical position for a true man to work in revolutions. He
seems an anarchist; and indeed a painful element of anarchy does
encumber him at every step, - him to whose whole soul anarchy is
hostile, hateful. His mission is Order; every man's is. He is here to
make what was disorderly, chaotic, into a thing ruled, regular. He is
the missionary of Order. Is not all work of man in this world a
_making of Order_? The carpenter finds rough trees: shapes them,
constrains them into square fitness, into purpose and use. We are all
born enemies of Disorder: it is tragical for us all to be concerned in
image-breaking and down-pulling; for the Great Man, _more_ a man than
we, it is doubly tragical.

Thus too all human things, maddest French Sansculottisms, do and must
work towards Order. I say, there is not a _man_ in them, raging in the
thickest of the madness, but is impelled withal, at all moments,
towards Order. His very life means that; Disorder is dissolution,
death. No chaos but it seeks a _centre_ to revolve round. While man is
man, some Cromwell or Napoleon is the necessary finish of a
Sansculottism. - Curious: in those days when Hero-worship was the most
incredible thing to every one, how it does come-out nevertheless, and
assert itself practically, in a way which all have to credit. Divine
_right_, take it on the great scale, is found to mean divine _might_
withal! While old false Formulas are getting trampled everywhere into
destruction, new genuine Substances unexpectedly unfold themselves
indestructible. In rebellious ages, when Kingship itself seems dead
and abolished, Cromwell, Napoleon step-forth again as Kings. The
history of these men is what we have now to look at, as our last
phasis of Heroism. The old ages are brought back to us; the manner in
which Kings were made, and Kingship itself first took rise, is again
exhibited in the history of these Two.

* * * * *

We have had many civil-wars in England; wars of Red and White Roses,
wars of Simon de Montfort; wars enough, which are not very memorable.
But that war of the Puritans has a significance which belongs to no
one of the others. Trusting to your candour, which will suggest on the
other side what I have not room to say, I will call it a section once
more of that great universal war which alone makes-up the true History
of the World, - the war of Belief against Unbelief! The struggle of men
intent on the real essence of things, against men intent on the
semblances and forms of things. The Puritans, to many, seem mere
savage Iconoclasts, fierce destroyers of Forms; but it were more just
to call them haters of _untrue_ Forms. I hope we know how to respect
Laud and his King as well as them. Poor Laud seems to me to have been
weak and ill-starred, not dishonest; an unfortunate Pedant rather than
anything worse. His 'Dreams' and superstitions, at which they laugh
so, have an affectionate, lovable kind of character. He is like a
College-Tutor, whose whole world is forms, College-rules; whose notion
is that these are the life and safety of the world. He is placed
suddenly, with that unalterable luckless notion of his, at the head
not of a College but of a Nation, to regulate the most complex
deep-reaching interests of men. He thinks they ought to go by the old
decent regulations; nay that their salvation will lie in extending and
improving these. Like a weak man, he drives with spasmodic vehemence
towards his purpose; cramps himself to it, heeding no voice of
prudence, no cry of pity: He will have his College-rules obeyed by his
Collegians; that first; and till that, nothing. He is an ill-starred
Pedant, as I said. He would have it the world was a College of that
kind, and the world _was not_ that. Alas, was not his doom stern
enough? Whatever wrongs he did, were they not all frightfully avenged
on him?

It is meritorious to insist on forms; Religion and all else naturally
clothes itself in forms. Everywhere the _formed_ world is the only
habitable one. The naked formlessness of Puritanism is not the thing I
praise in the Puritans; it is the thing I pity, - praising only the
spirit which had rendered that inevitable! All substances clothe
themselves in forms: but there are suitable true forms, and then there
are untrue unsuitable. As the briefest definition, one might say,
Forms which _grow_ round a substance, if we rightly understand that,
will correspond to the real nature and purport of it, will be true,
good; forms which are consciously _put_ round a substance, bad. I
invite you to reflect on this. It distinguishes true from false in
Ceremonial Form, earnest solemnity from empty pageant, in all human

There must be a veracity, a natural spontaneity in forms. In the
commonest meeting of men, a person making, what we call, 'set
speeches,' is not he an offence? In the mere drawing-room, whatsoever
courtesies you see to be grimaces, prompted by no spontaneous reality
within, are a thing you wish to get away from. But suppose now it were
some matter of vital concernment, some transcendent matter (as Divine
Worship is), about which your whole soul, struck dumb with its excess
of feeling, knew not how to _form_ itself into utterance at all, and
preferred formless silence to any utterance there possible, - what
should we say of a man coming forward to represent or utter it for you
in the way of upholsterer-mummery? Such a man, - let him depart
swiftly, if he love himself! You have lost your only son; are mute,
struck down, without even tears: an importunate man importunately
offers to celebrate Funeral Games for him in the manner of the Greeks!
Such mummery is not only not to be accepted, - it is hateful,
unendurable. It is what the old Prophets called 'Idolatry,'
worshipping of hollow _shows_; what all earnest men do and will
reject. We can partly understand what those poor Puritans meant. Laud
dedicating that St. Catherine Creed's Church, in the manner we have it
described; with his multiplied ceremonial bowings, gesticulations,
exclamations: surely it is rather the rigorous formal _Pedant_, intent
on his 'College-rules,' than the earnest Prophet, intent on the
essence of the matter!

Puritanism found _such_ forms insupportable; trampled on such
forms; - we have to excuse it for saying, No form at all rather than
such! It stood preaching in its bare pulpit, with nothing but the
Bible in its hand. Nay, a man preaching from his earnest _soul_ into
the earnest _souls_ of men: is not this virtually the essence of all
Churches whatsoever? The nakedest, savagest reality, I say, is
preferable to any semblance, however dignified. Besides, it will
clothe itself with _due_ semblance by and by, if it be real. No fear
of that; actually no fear at all. Given the living _man_, there will
be found _clothes_ for him; he will find himself clothes. But the
suit-of-clothes pretending that _it_ is both clothes and man - ! - We
cannot 'fight the French' by three-hundred-thousand red uniforms;
there must be _men_ in the inside of them! Semblance, I assert, must
actually _not_ divorce itself from Reality. If Semblance do, - why then
there must be men found to rebel against Semblance, for it has become
a lie! These two Antagonisms at war here, in the case of Laud and the
Puritans, are as old nearly as the world. They went to fierce battle
over England in that age; and fought-out their confused controversy to
a certain length, with many results for all of us.

* * * * *

In the age which directly followed that of the Puritans, their cause
or themselves were little likely to have justice done them. Charles
Second and his Rochesters were not the kind of men you would set to
judge what the worth or meaning of such men might have been. That
there could be any faith or truth in the life of a man, was what these
poor Rochesters, and the age they ushered-in, had forgotten.
Puritanism was hung on gibbets, - like the bones of the leading
Puritans. Its work nevertheless went on accomplishing itself. All true
work of a man, hang the author of it on what gibbet you like, must and
will accomplish itself. We have our _Habeas-Corpus_, our free
Representation of the People; acknowledgment, wide as the world, that
all men are, or else must, shall, and will become, what we call _free_
men; - men with their life grounded on reality and justice, not on
tradition, which has become unjust and a chimera! This in part and
much besides this, was the work of the Puritans.

And indeed, as these things became gradually manifest, the character
of the Puritans began to clear itself. Their memories were, one after
another, taken _down_ from the gibbet; nay a certain portion of them
are now, in these days, as good as canonised. Eliot, Hampden, Pym, nay
Ludlow, Hutchinson, Vane himself, are admitted to be a kind of Heroes;
political Conscript Fathers, to whom in no small degree we owe what
makes us a free England: it would not be safe for anybody to designate
these men as wicked now. Few Puritans of note but find their
apologists somewhere, and have a certain reverence paid them by
earnest men. One Puritan, I think, and almost he alone, our poor
Cromwell, seems to hang yet on the gibbet, and find no hearty
apologist anywhere. Him neither saint nor sinner will acquit of great
wickedness. A man of ability, infinite talent, courage, and so forth:
but he betrayed the Cause. Selfish ambition, dishonesty, duplicity; a
fierce, coarse, hypocritical _Tartufe_; turning all that noble
Struggle for constitutional Liberty into a sorry farce played for his
own benefit: this and worse is the character they give of Cromwell.
And then there come contrasts with Washington and others; above all,
with these noble Pyms and Hampdens, whose noble work he stole for
himself, and ruined into a futility and deformity.

This view of Cromwell seems to me the not unnatural product of a
century like the Eighteenth. As we said of the Valet, so of the
Sceptic: He does not know a Hero when he sees him! The Valet expected
purple mantles, gilt sceptres, body-guards and flourishes of trumpets:
the Sceptic of the Eighteenth century looks for regulated respectable
Formulas, 'Principles,' or what else he may call them; a style of
speech and conduct which has got to seem 'respectable,' which can
plead for itself in a handsome articulate manner, and gain the
suffrages of an enlightened sceptical Eighteenth century! It is, at
bottom, the same thing that both the Valet and he expect: the
garnitures of some _acknowledged_ royalty, which _then_ they will
acknowledge! The King coming to them in the rugged _un_formulistic
state shall be no King.

For my own share, far be it from me to say or insinuate a word of
disparagement against such characters as Hampden, Eliot, Pym; whom I
believe to have been right worthy and useful men. I have read
diligently what books and documents about them I could come at; - with
the honestest wish to admire, to love and worship them like Heroes;
but I am sorry to say, if the real truth must be told, with very
indifferent success! At bottom, I found that it would not do. They are
very noble men, these; step along in their stately way, with their
measured euphemisms, philosophies, parliamentary eloquences,
Ship-moneys, _Monarchies of Man_; a most constitutional, unblamable,
dignified set of men. But the heart remains cold before them; the
fancy alone endeavours to get-up some worship of them. What man's
heart does, in reality, break-forth into any fire of brotherly love
for these men? They are become dreadfully dull men! One breaks-down
often enough in the constitutional eloquence of the admirable Pym,

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 39 of 43)