Thomas Carlyle.

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

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inevitable in a German, but fatal to his success with our public.

Of good society Teufelsdröckh appears to have seen little, or has
mostly forgotten what he saw. He speaks-out with a strange plainness;
calls many things by their mere dictionary names. To him the
Upholsterer is no Pontiff, neither is any Drawing-room a Temple, were
it never so begilt and overhung: 'a whole immensity of Brussels
carpets, and pier-glasses, and or-molu,' as he himself expresses it,
'cannot hide from me that such Drawing-room is simply a section of
Infinite Space, where so many God-created Souls do for the time meet
together.' To Teufelsdröckh the highest Duchess is respectable, is
venerable; but nowise for her pearl bracelets and Malines laces: in
his eyes, the star of a Lord is little less and little more than the
broad button of Birmingham spelter in a Clown's smock; 'each is an
implement,' he says, 'in its kind; a tag for _hooking-together_; and,
for the rest, was dug from the earth, and hammered on a smithy before
smith's fingers.' Thus does the Professor look in men's faces with a
strange impartiality, a strange scientific freedom; like a man
unversed in the higher circles, like a man dropped thither from the
Moon. Rightly considered, it is in this peculiarity, running through
his whole system of thought, that all these short-comings,
over-shootings, and multiform perversities, take rise: if indeed they
have not a second source, also natural enough, in his Transcendental
Philosophies, and humour of looking at all Matter and Material things
as Spirit; whereby truly his case were but the more hopeless, the more

To the Thinkers of this nation, however, of which class it is firmly
believed there are individuals yet extant, we can safely recommend the
Work: nay, who knows but among the fashionable ranks too, if it be
true, as Teufelsdröckh maintains, that 'within the most starched
cravat there passes a windpipe and weasand, and under the thickliest
embroidered waistcoat beats a heart,' - the force of that rapt
earnestness may be felt, and here and there an arrow of the soul
pierce through? In our wild Seer, shaggy, unkempt, like a Baptist
living on locusts and wild honey, there is an untutored energy, a
silent, as it were unconscious, strength, which, except in the higher
walks of Literature, must be rare. Many a deep glance, and often with
unspeakable precision, has he cast into mysterious Nature, and the
still more mysterious Life of Man. Wonderful it is with what cutting
words, now and then, he severs asunder the confusion; shears down,
were it furlongs deep, into the true centre of the matter; and there
not only hits the nail on the head, but with crushing force smites it
home, and buries it. - On the other hand, let us be free to admit, he
is the most unequal writer breathing. Often after some such feat, he
will play truant for long pages, and go dawdling and dreaming, and
mumbling and maundering the merest commonplaces, as if he were asleep
with eyes open, which indeed he is.

Of his boundless Learning, and how all reading and literature in most
known tongues, from _Sanchoniathon_ to _Dr Lingard_, from your
Oriental _Shasters_, and _Talmuds_, and _Korans_, with Cassini's
_Siamese Tables_, and Laplace's _Mécanique Céleste_, down to _Robinson
Crusoe_ and the _Belfast Town and Country Almanack_, are familiar to
him, - we shall say nothing: for unexampled as it is with us, to the
Germans such universality of study passes without wonder, as a thing
commendable, indeed, but natural, indispensable, and there of course.
A man that devotes his life to learning, shall he not be learned?

In respect of style our Author manifests the same genial capability,
marred too often by the same rudeness, inequality, and apparent want
of intercourse with the higher classes. Occasionally, as above hinted,
we find consummate vigour, a true inspiration; his burning thoughts
step forth in fit burning words, like so many full-formed Minervas,
issuing amid flame and splendour from Jove's head; a rich, idiomatic
diction, picturesque allusions, fiery poetic emphasis, or quaint
tricksy turns; all the graces and terrors of a wild Imagination,
wedded to the clearest Intellect, alternate in beautiful vicissitude.
Were it not that sheer sleeping and soporific passages;
circumlocutions, repetitions, touches even of pure doting jargon, so
often intervene! On the whole, Professor Teufelsdröckh is not a
cultivated writer. Of his sentences perhaps not more than nine-tenths
stand straight on their legs; the remainder are in quite angular
attitudes, buttressed-up by props (of parentheses and dashes), and
ever with this or the other tagrag hanging from them; a few even
sprawl-out helplessly on all sides, quite broken-backed and
dismembered. Nevertheless, in almost his very worst moods, there lies
in him a singular attraction. A wild tone pervades the whole utterance
of the man, like its keynote and regulator; now screwing itself aloft
as into the Song of Spirits, or else the shrill mockery of Fiends; now
sinking in cadences, not without melodious heartiness, though
sometimes abrupt enough, into the common pitch, when we hear it only
as a monotonous hum; of which hum the true character is extremely
difficult to fix. Up to this hour we have never fully satisfied
ourselves whether it is a tone and hum of real Humour, which we reckon
among the very highest qualities of genius, or some echo of mere
Insanity and Inanity, which doubtless ranks below the very lowest.

Under a like difficulty, in spite even of our personal intercourse, do
we still lie with regard to the Professor's moral feeling. Gleams of
an ethereal Love burst forth from him, soft wailings of infinite pity;
he could clasp the whole Universe into his bosom, and keep it warm; it
seems as if under that rude exterior there dwelt a very seraph. Then
again he is so sly and still, so imperturbably saturnine; shows such
indifference, malign coolness towards all that men strive after; and
ever with some half-visible wrinkle of a bitter sardonic humour, if
indeed it be not mere stolid callousness, - that you look on him almost
with a shudder, as on some incarnate Mephistopheles, to whom this
great terrestrial and celestial Round, after all, were but some huge
foolish Whirligig, where kings and beggars, and angels and demons, and
stars and street-sweepings, were chaotically whirled, in which only
children could take interest. His look, as we mentioned, is probably
the gravest ever seen: yet it is not of that cast-iron gravity
frequent enough among our own Chancery suitors; but rather the gravity
as of some silent, high-encircled mountain-pool, perhaps the crater of
an extinct volcano; into whose black deeps you fear to gaze: those
eyes, those lights that sparkle in it, may indeed be reflexes of the
heavenly Stars, but perhaps also glances from the region of Nether

Certainly a most involved, self-secluded, altogether enigmatic nature,
this of Teufelsdröckh! Here, however, we gladly recall to mind that
once we saw him _laugh_; once only, perhaps it was the first and last
time in his life; but then such a peal of laughter, enough to have
awakened the Seven Sleepers! It was of Jean Paul's doing: some single
billow in that vast World-Mahlstrom of Humour, with its heaven-kissing
coruscations, which is now, alas, all congealed in the frost of death!
The large-bodied Poet and the small, both large enough in soul, sat
talking miscellaneously together, the present Editor being privileged
to listen; and now Paul, in his serious way, was giving one of those
inimitable 'Extra-harangues'; and, as it chanced, On the Proposal for
a _Cast-metal King_: gradually a light kindled in our Professor's eyes
and face, a beaming, mantling, loveliest light; through those murky
features, a radiant, ever-young Apollo looked; and he burst forth like
the neighing of all Tattersall's, - tears streaming down his cheeks,
pipe held aloft, foot clutched into the air, - loud, long-continuing,
uncontrollable; a laugh not of the face and diaphragm only, but of the
whole man from head to heel. The present Editor, who laughed indeed,
yet with measure, began to fear all was not right: however,
Teufelsdröckh composed himself, and sank into his old stillness; on
his inscrutable countenance there was, if anything, a slight look of
shame; and Richter himself could not rouse him again. Readers who have
any tincture of Psychology know how much is to be inferred from this;
and that no man who has once heartily and wholly laughed can be
altogether irreclaimably bad. How much lies in Laughter: the
cipher-key, wherewith we decipher the whole man! Some men wear an
everlasting barren simper; in the smile of others lies a cold glitter
as of ice: the fewest are able to laugh, what can be called laughing,
but only sniff and titter and snigger from the throat outwards; or at
best, produce some whiffling husky cachinnation, as if they were
laughing through wool: of none such comes good. The man who cannot
laugh is not only fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; but his
whole life is already a treason and a stratagem.

Considered as an Author, Herr Teufelsdröckh has one scarcely
pardonable fault, doubtless his worst: an almost total want of
arrangement. In this remarkable Volume, it is true, his adherence to
the mere course of Time produces, through the Narrative portions, a
certain show of outward method; but of true logical method and
sequence there is too little. Apart from its multifarious sections and
subdivisions, the Work naturally falls into two Parts; a
Historical-Descriptive, and a Philosophical-Speculative: but falls,
unhappily, by no firm line of demarcation; in that labyrinthic
combination, each Part overlaps, and indents, and indeed runs quite
through the other. Many sections are of a debatable rubric or even
quite nondescript and unnameable; whereby the Book not only loses in
accessibility, but too often distresses us like some mad banquet,
wherein all courses had been confounded, and fish and flesh, soup and
solid, oyster-sauce, lettuces, Rhine-wine and French mustard, were
hurled into one huge tureen or trough, and the hungry Public invited
to help itself. To bring what order we can out of this Chaos shall be
part of our endeavour.



'As Montesquieu wrote a _Spirit of Laws_,' observes our Professor, 'so
could I write a _Spirit of Clothes_; thus, with an _Esprit des Lois_,
properly an _Esprit de Coutumes_, we should have an _Esprit de
Costumes_. For neither in tailoring nor in legislating does man
proceed by mere Accident, but the hand is ever guided on by mysterious
operations of the mind. In all his Modes, and habilatory endeavours,
an Architectural Idea will be found lurking; his Body and the Cloth
are the site and materials whereon and whereby his beautified edifice,
of a Person, is to be built. Whether he flow gracefully out in folded
mantles, based on light sandals; tower-up in high headgear, from amid
peaks, spangles and bell-girdles; swell-out in starched ruffs, buckram
stuffings, and monstrous tuberosities; or girth himself into separate
sections, and front the world an Agglomeration of four limbs, - will
depend on the nature of such Architectural Idea: whether Grecian,
Gothic, Later-Gothic, or altogether Modern, and Parisian or
Anglo-Dandiacal. Again, what meaning lies in Colour! From the soberest
drab to the high-flaming scarlet, spiritual idiosyncrasies unfold
themselves in choice of Colour: if the Cut betoken Intellect and
Talent, so does the Colour betoken Temper and Heart. In all which,
among nations as among individuals, there is an incessant,
indubitable, though infinitely complex working of Cause and Effect:
every snip of the Scissors has been regulated and prescribed by
ever-active Influences, which doubtless to Intelligences of a superior
order are neither invisible nor illegible.

'For such superior Intelligences a Cause-and-Effect Philosophy of
Clothes, as of Laws, were probably a comfortable winter-evening
entertainment: nevertheless, for inferior Intelligences, like men,
such Philosophies have always seemed to me uninstructive enough. Nay,
what is your Montesquieu himself but a clever infant spelling Letters
from a hieroglyphical prophetic Book, the lexicon of which lies in
Eternity, in Heaven? - Let any Cause-and-Effect Philosopher explain,
not why I wear such and such a Garment, obey such and such a Law; but
even why _I_ am _here_, to wear and obey anything! - Much, therefore,
if not the whole, of that same _Spirit of Clothes_ I shall suppress,
as hypothetical, ineffectual, and even impertinent: naked Facts, and
Deductions drawn therefrom in quite another than that omniscient
style, are my humbler and proper province.'

Acting on which prudent restriction, Teufelsdröckh has nevertheless
contrived to take-in a well-nigh boundless extent of field; at least,
the boundaries too often lie quite beyond our horizon. Selection being
indispensable, we shall here glance-over his First Part only in the
most cursory manner. This First Part is, no doubt, distinguished by
omnivorous learning, and utmost patience and fairness: at the same
time, in its results and delineations, it is much more likely to
interest the Compilers of some _Library_ of General, Entertaining,
Useful, or even Useless Knowledge than the miscellaneous readers of
these pages. Was it this Part of the Book which Heuschrecke had in
view, when he recommended us to that joint-stock vehicle of
publication, 'at present the glory of British Literature'? If so, the
Library Editors are welcome to dig in it for their own behoof.

To the First Chapter, which turns on Paradise and Fig-leaves, and
leads us into interminable disquisitions of a mythological,
metaphorical, cabalistico-sartorial and quite antediluvian cast, we
shall content ourselves with giving an unconcerned approval. Still
less have we to do with 'Lilis, Adam's first wife, whom, according to
the Talmudists, he had before Eve, and who bore him, in that wedlock,
the whole progeny of aerial, aquatic, and terrestrial Devils,' - very
needlessly, we think. On this portion of the Work, with its profound
glances into the _Adam-Kadmon_, or Primeval Element, here strangely
brought into relation with the _Nifl_ and _Muspel_ (Darkness and
Light) of the antique North, it may be enough to say, that its
correctness of deduction, and depth of Talmudic and Rabbinical lore
have filled perhaps not the worst Hebraist in Britain with something
like astonishment.

But, quitting this twilight region, Teufelsdröckh hastens from the
Tower of Babel, to follow the dispersion of Mankind over the whole
habitable and habilable globe. Walking by the light of Oriental,
Pelasgic, Scandinavian, Egyptian, Otaheitean, Ancient and Modern
researches of every conceivable kind, he strives to give us in
compressed shape (as the Nürnbergers give an _Orbis Pictus_) an _Orbis
Vestitus_; or view of the costumes of all mankind, in all countries,
in all times. It is here that to the Antiquarian, to the Historian, we
can triumphantly say: Fall to! Here is learning: an irregular
Treasury, if you will; but inexhaustible as the Hoard of King
Nibelung, which twelve wagons in twelve days, at the rate of three
journeys a day, could not carry off. Sheepskin cloaks and wampum
belts; phylacteries, stoles, albs; chlamydes, togas, Chinese silks,
Afghaun shawls, trunk-hose, leather breeches, Celtic philibegs (though
breeches, as the name _Gallia Braccata_ indicates, are the more
ancient), Hussar cloaks, Vandyke tippets, ruffs, fardingales, are
brought vividly before us, - even the Kilmarnock nightcap is not
forgotten. For most part, too, we must admit that the Learning,
heterogeneous as it is, and tumbled-down quite pell-mell, is true
concentrated and purified Learning, the drossy parts smelted out and
thrown aside.

Philosophical reflections intervene, and sometimes touching pictures
of human life. Of this sort the following has surprised us. The first
purpose of Clothes, as our Professor imagines, was not warmth or
decency, but ornament. 'Miserable indeed,' says he, 'was the condition
of the Aboriginal Savage, glaring fiercely from under his fleece of
hair, which with the beard reached down to his loins, and hung round
him like a matted cloak; the rest of his body sheeted in its thick
natural fell. He loitered in the sunny glades of the forest, living on
wild-fruits; or, as the ancient Caledonian, squatted himself in
morasses, lurking for his bestial or human prey; without implements,
without arms, save the ball of heavy Flint, to which, that his sole
possession and defence might not be lost, he had attached a long cord
of plaited thongs; thereby recovering as well as hurling it with
deadly unerring skill. Nevertheless, the pains of Hunger and Revenge
once satisfied, his next care was not Comfort but Decoration (_Putz_).
Warmth he found in the toils of the chase; or amid dried leaves, in
his hollow tree, in his bark shed, or natural grotto: but for
Decoration he must have Clothes. Nay, among wild people we find
tattooing and painting even prior to Clothes. The first spiritual want
of a barbarous man is Decoration, as indeed we still see among the
barbarous classes in civilised countries.

'Reader, the heaven-inspired melodious Singer; loftiest Serene
Highness; nay thy own amber-locked, snow-and-rose-bloom Maiden, worthy
to glide sylphlike almost on air, whom thou lovest, worshippest as a
divine Presence, which, indeed, symbolically taken, she is, - has
descended, like thyself, from that same hair-mantled, flint-hurling
Aboriginal Anthropophagus! Out of the eater cometh forth meat; out of
the strong cometh forth sweetness. What changes are wrought, not by
time, yet in Time! For not Mankind only, but all that Mankind does or
beholds, is in continual growth, regenesis and self-perfecting
vitality. Cast forth thy Act, thy Word, into the ever-living,
ever-working Universe: it is a seed-grain that cannot die; unnoticed
to-day (says one), it will be found flourishing as a Banyan-grove
(perhaps, alas, as a Hemlock-forest!) after a thousand years.

'He who first shortened the labour of Copyists by device of _Movable
Types_ was disbanding hired Armies, and cashiering most Kings and
Senates, and creating a whole new Democratic world: he had invented
the Art of Printing. The first ground handful of Nitre, Sulphur, and
Charcoal drove Monk Schwartz's pestle through the ceiling: what will
the last do? Achieve the final undisputed prostration of Force under
Thought, of Animal courage under Spiritual. A simple invention it was
in the old-world Grazier, - sick of lugging his slow Ox about the
country till he got it bartered for corn or oil, - to take a piece of
Leather, and thereon scratch or stamp the mere Figure of an Ox (or
_Pecus_); put it in his pocket, and call it _Pecunia_, Money. Yet
hereby did Barter grow Sale, the Leather Money is now Golden and
Paper, and all miracles have been out-miracled: for there are
Rothschilds and English National Debts; and whoso has sixpence is
sovereign (to the length of sixpence) over all men; commands cooks to
feed him, philosophers to teach him, kings to mount guard over
him, - to the length of sixpence. - Clothes too, which began in
foolishest love of Ornament, what have they not become! Increased
Security and pleasurable Heat soon followed: but what of these? Shame,
divine Shame (_Schaam_, Modesty), as yet a stranger to the
Anthropophagous bosom, arose there mysteriously under Clothes; a
mystic grove-encircled shrine for the Holy in man. Clothes gave us
individuality, distinctions, social polity; Clothes have made Men of
us; they are threatening to make Clothes-screens of us.

'But, on the whole,' continues our eloquent Professor, 'Man is a
Tool-using Animal (_Handthierendes Thier_). Weak in himself, and of
small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled,
of some half-square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his
legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three
quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses
him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use Tools, can devise
Tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before
him; he kneads glowing iron, as if it were soft paste; seas are his
smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you
find him without Tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is

Here may we not, for a moment, interrupt the stream of Oratory with a
remark, that this Definition of the Tool-using Animal, appears to us,
of all that Animal-sort, considerably the precisest and best? Man is
called a Laughing Animal: but do not the apes also laugh, or attempt
to do it; and is the manliest man the greatest and oftenest laugher?
Teufelsdröckh himself, as we said, laughed only once. Still less do we
make of that other French Definition of the Cooking Animal; which,
indeed, for rigorous scientific purposes, is as good as useless. Can a
Tartar be said to cook, when he only readies his steak by riding on
it? Again, what Cookery does the Greenlander use, beyond stowing-up
his whale-blubber, as a marmot, in the like case, might do? Or how
would Monsieur Ude prosper among those Orinocco Indians, who,
according to Humboldt, lodge in crow-nests, on the branches of trees;
and, for half the year, have no victuals but pipe-clay, the whole
country being under water? But, on the other hand, show us the human
being, of any period or climate, without his Tools: those very
Caledonians, as we saw, had their Flint-ball, and Thong to it, such as
no brute has or can have.

'Man is a Tool-using Animal,' concludes Teufelsdröckh in his abrupt
way; 'of which truth Clothes are but one example: and surely if we
consider the interval between the first wooden Dibble fashioned by
man, and those Liverpool Steam-carriages, or the British House of
Commons, we shall note what progress he has made. He digs up certain
black stones from the bosom of the earth, and says to them, _Transport
me and this luggage at the rate of five-and-thirty miles an hour_; and
they do it: he collects, apparently by lot, six-hundred and
fifty-eight miscellaneous individuals, and says to them, _Make this
nation toil for us, bleed for us, hunger and sorrow and sin for us_;
and they do it.'



One of the most unsatisfactory Sections in the whole Volume is that on
_Aprons_. What though stout old Gao, the Persian Blacksmith, 'whose
Apron, now indeed hidden under jewels, because raised in revolt which
proved successful, is still the royal standard of that country'; what
though John Knox's Daughter, 'who threatened Sovereign Majesty that
she would catch her husband's head in her Apron, rather than he should
lie and be a bishop'; what though the Landgravine Elizabeth, with many
other Apron worthies, - figure here? An idle wire-drawing spirit,
sometimes even a tone of levity, approaching to conventional satire,
is too clearly discernible. What, for example, are we to make of such
sentences as the following?

'Aprons are Defences; against injury to cleanliness, to safety, to
modesty, sometimes to roguery. From the thin slip of notched silk (as
it were, the Emblem and beatified Ghost of an Apron), which some
highest-bred housewife, sitting at Nürnberg Workboxes and Toyboxes,
has gracefully fastened on; to the thick-tanned hide, girt round him
with thongs, wherein the Builder builds, and at evening sticks his
trowel; or to those jingling sheet-iron Aprons, wherein your otherwise
half-naked Vulcans hammer and smelt in their smelt-furnace, - is there
not range enough in the fashion and uses of this Vestment? How much
has been concealed, how much has been defended in Aprons! Nay, rightly
considered, what is your whole Military and Police Establishment,
charged at uncalculated millions, but a huge scarlet-coloured,
iron-fastened Apron, wherein Society works (uneasily enough); guarding
itself from some soil and stithy-sparks, in this Devil's-smithy
(_Teufelsschmiede_) of a world? But of all Aprons the most puzzling to
me hitherto has been the Episcopal or Cassock. Wherein consists the
usefulness of this Apron? The Overseer (_Episcopus_) of Souls, I
notice, has tucked-in the corner of it, as if his day's work were
done: what does he shadow forth thereby?' &c. &c.

Or again, has it often been the lot of our readers to read such stuff
as we shall now quote?

'I consider those printed Paper Aprons, worn by the Parisian Cooks, as

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleSartor resartus; and, On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history → online text (page 4 of 43)