Thomas Carlyle.

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BOOK 824.8.C199 1903 v. 10 c 1

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Originally published 1843









I. Midas

II. The Sphinx

III. Manchester Insurrection

IV. Morrison's Pill

V. Aristocracy of Talent .
VI. Hero- Worship .


the ancient monk


I. Jocelin of Brakelond
II. St. Edmundsbury

III. Landlord Edmund

IV. Abbot Hugo .
V. Twelfth Century

VI. Monk Samson .
VII. The Canvassing
VIII. The Election .

a 2










IX. Abbot Samson .



X. Government


XI. The Abbot's Ways .


XII. The Abbot's Troubles


XIII. In Parliament

. 104

XIV. Henry of Essex


XV. Practical-Devotional


XVI. St. Edmund


XVII. The Beginnings

» »








Gospel of Mammonism



Gospel of Dilettantism .



Happy ....



The English . »



Two Centuries






Unworking Aristocracy .



Working Aristocracy



Plugson of Undershot



Labour ....



Reward .




. 209


Sir Jabesh Windbag ,



Morrison again





I. Aristocracies ........ 239

II. Bribery Committee 252

III. The One Institution 257

IV. Captains of Industry ...... 270

V. Permanence ........ 277

VI. The Landed 282

VII. The Gifted 288

VIII. The Didactic 293

Summary 299

Index 313



From a painting by G. F. Watts, R.A.


From a photograph taken 31st July 1854.



Carlyle, it was affirmed in the pages prefatory to the First
Volume of this series, 'is neither political prophet nor ethical
doctor, but simply a great master of literature who lives for
posterity by the art which he despised.' This pronouncement
has been challenged in some quarters, as it was inevitable that it
should be ; but it has, on the whole, been received with a greater
amount of assent, express or tacit, than one would have ventured
to count upon when the sentence was originally penned. To
those who still find it a stumbling-block I would respectfully com-
mend a careful perusal of the volume to which this is the Intro-
duction. Nowhere, as it seems to me, is the contrast between
the prophet who has perished and the writer who is immortal
more ironically presented to us than in the pages of Past and
Present. The irony enters into the very title ; for it is the Pre-
sent of Carlyle's description which has now passed so completely
away as to carry with it into the limbo of futilities the predictions
which he based upon it; while it is the Past of his fond retro-
spect which his literary genius has made to live again for us
with a reality to which our conceptions of his and even of our
own Present seldom attain, and which they hardly ever surpass.
In the first six chapters of this volume, which form Book i., and
are entitled ' Proem/ as also to a considerable extent in Books in.
and iv., we have to do with a political pessimist who mistook
a passing phase of trouble in the history of a nation for a crisis,
probably a fatal crisis, in its fortunes ; and his boding prophecies,
stormily eloquent, grimly humorous as is the form of their ex-
pression, are marred for us of to-day by an ever-present conscious-
ness of their subsequent falsification. But in Book n. the preacher



and teacher retire into the background, the unrivalled master ot
historical narrative, the magical rebuilder of the past, assume their
places, and the result appears in a picture of mediaeval monasti-
cism which will live as long as anything that Carlyle ever wrote.
More than one professed romancer of the highest genius has dealt
with the cloistral life ; and the quaint mixture of nobility and
naivete, of dignity and childishness, of the pathetic and the absurd,
which meets one in the typical monkish character, has attracted
poets and humorists in all ages. But none among them has ever
done fuller justice to it than the author of the wonderful sketch
of Abbot Samson and the St. Edmundsbury monks. Perhaps
if one were challenged to name ten pages in which Carlyle
has most brilliantly exhibited the whole array of those gifts by
virtue of which he makes history live again, one would do well
to seek them, not in the dramatic pages of the French Revolution,
but in the two short chapters of Past and Present wherein he
describes the canvassing for the new Abbot of St. Edmundsbury,
and the final election of Samson Subsacrista to that exalted office.
The preliminary chattering of the monks among themselves;
the despatch of the thirteen delegate electors to Henry n. at
Waltham ; their journey thither ; and the formidable figure, dashed
in with a few strokes, of the great King himself — it is all done
in Carlyle's inimitable manner, with that force and truth and
humour and swift unerring touch that marks his handling of any
historic incident which had once taken hold of his imagination.
Jocelin of Brakelond's narrative, is his sole authority throughout ;
but how vividly do the figures stand out on the faded tapestry of
the monkish chronicler ! And when at last the names of the
competing candidates are one by one struck off, and the electors
make their final unexpected presentment of the Subsacrista, how
intensely real is the scene which follows ! —

f The King's Majesty, looking at us somewhat sternly, then says :
" You present to me Samson ; I do not know him : had it been your
Prior, whom I do know, I should have accepted him : however, I will


now do as you wish. But have a care of yourselves. By the true eyes
of God, per veros oculos Dei, if you manage badly, I will be upon you ! "
Samson, therefore, steps forward, kisses the King's feet; but swiftly
rises erect again, swiftly turns towards the altar, uplifting with the
other Twelve, in clear tenor-note, the Fifty-first Psalm, " Miserere mei

'After thy loving-kindness, Lord,
Have mercy upon me;'"

with firm voice, firm step and head, no change in his countenance what-
ever. " By God's eyes," said the King, " that one, I think, will govern
the Abbey well." '

And admirably, as we all know, is his government described in
Book n. of this volume. We follow the history of the good
Abbot's administration — its struggles, reforms, pieties, with the
same strange sense of reality and nearness that we feel in reading
of his election ; and it is all too soon for us that Jocelin's Chronicle
comes to an end, 'impenetrable time-curtains rush down/ the
' real phantasmagory of St. Edmundsbury plunges into the bosom
of the Twelfth Century again,' and ' Monks, Abbot, Hero-worship,
Government, Obedience, Coeur de Lion, and St. Edmund's Shrine
vanish like " Mirza's Vision," leaving nothing but a mutilated
black ruin amid green botanic expanses, and oxen, sheep, and
dilettanti pasturing in their places.'

It is with some unwillingness that we pass from this picturesque
and romantic episode to the two concluding books, and find our-
selves again at hand-grips with professors of the dismal science,
commercial capitalists, laissez-faire theorists, Plugson of Undershot,
Sir Jabesh Windbag, and the rest of Carlyle's favourite bogies.
They are all fallen silent — all gone dead to-day, and to fight the
battle with them over again gives one, curiously enough, a far
more ' phantasmagoric ' feeling than that with which one joined
in the struggles of Abbot Samson. Yet even now it is impos-
sible not to observe with admiration how, again and again, in iso-
lated passages, in whole chapters, the genius of Carlyle triumphs
and preserves the vitality of his perishable materials. The


fifth chapter of the Third Book, the chapter on ' The English,' is
a case in point : nothing truer, more inspiring, or at the same
time more human, more genially humorous, has ever been
written on the national character than this study of John Bull,
in all his strength and weakness, his confusions of the mind and
his heroisms of the will.

And to distinguish — as it is more necessary to do with Carlyle
than with any other writer — between merits of subject and those
of treatment, we should have, in respect of certain great qualities
of its author, to give Past and Present a very high place in his
works. For unflagging spirit and inexhaustible animation it is
surpassed by none of them, and surpasses many : as well it may
indeed, seeing that, as Professor Nichol truly observes of it,
it is the 'only considerable consecutive book, unless we also
except the Life of Sterling, which the author wrote without the
accompaniment of wrestlings, agonies, and disgusts.' As a matter
of fact this volume of upwards of two hundred and fifty pages
was completed 'from title-page to colophon,' during the first
seven weeks of 1843, actually one of the ' four years of abstruse
toil, obscure speculation, futile wrestling and misery,' which, as
he afterwards complained, it had cost him to get together his
materials for the Cromwell. In spite of this formidable preoccu-
pation, he was able to dash off Past and Present literally ' at a
heat.' But perhaps I should have written ' because' rather than
' in spite,' for it may well have been to the rebound of the bent
b ow — to the unspeakable relief of being able to exchange dis-
tasteful for congenial work — that the pages which follow are
indebted for that varying but unceasing play of eloquence,
humour, and passion by which they are irradiated from first to



• - . " ■ - ' .




The condition of England, on which many pamphlets are now
in the course of publication, and many thoughts unpublished
are going on in every reflective head, is justly regarded as one
of the most ominous, and withal one of the strangest, ever
seen in this world. England is full of wealth, of multifarious
produce, supply for human want in every kind ; yet England
is dying of inanition. With unabated bounty the land of
England blooms and grows ; waving with yellow harvests ;
thick-studded with workshops, industrial implements, with
fifteen millions of workers, understood to be the strongest,
the cunningest and the willingest our Earth ever had ; these
men are here ; the work they have done, the fruit they have
realised is here, abundant, exuberant on every hand of us :
and behold, some baleful fiat as of Enchantment has gone
forth, saying, ' Touch it not, ye workers, ye master- workers,
ye master- idlers ; none of you can touch it, no man of you
shall be the better for it ; this is enchanted fruit ! ' On the
poor workers such fiat falls first, in its rudest shape ; but on
the rich master- workers too it falls ; neither can the rich
master-idlers, nor any richest or highest man escape, but all
are like to be brought low with it, and made * poor ' enough,
in the money sense or a far fataler one.

Of these successful skilful workers some two millions, it is
now counted, sit in Workhouses, Poor-law Prisons ; or have



' out-door relief 1 flung over the wall to them, — the workhouse
pastille being filled to bursting, and the strong Poor-law
broken asunder by a stronger. 1 They sit there, these many
months now ; their hope of deliverance as yet small. In
workhouses, pleasantly so-named, because work cannot be done
in them. Twelve-hundred-thousand workers in England
alone ; their cunning right-hand lamed, lying idle in their
sorrowful bosom ; their hopes, outlooks, share of this fair
world, shut-in by narrow walls. They sit there, pent up, as
in a kind of horrid enchantment ; glad to be imprisoned and
enchanted, that they may not perish starved. The picturesque
Tourist, in a sunny autumn day, through this bounteous
realm of England, descries the Union Workhouse on his path.
* Passing by the Workhouse of St. Ives in Huntingdonshire,
on a bright day last autumn, 1 says the picturesque Tourist,
' I saw sitting on wooden benches, in front of their Bastille
and within their ring-wall and its railings, some half-hundred
or more of these men. Tall robust figures, young mostly or
of middle age ; of honest countenance, many of them thought-
ful and even intelligent-looking men. They sat there, near
by one another ; but in a kind of torpor, especially in a silence,
which was very striking. In silence : for, alas, what word
was to be said ? An Earth all lying round, crying, Come
and till me, come and reap me ; — yet we here sit enchanted !
In the eyes and brows of these men hung the gloomiest expres-
sion, not of anger, but of grief and shame and manifold
inarticulate distress and weariness ; they returned my glance
with a glance that seemed to say, " Do not look at us. We
sit enchanted here, we know not why. The Sun shines and
the Earth calls ; and, by the governing Powers and Impotences
of this England, we are forbidden to obey. It is impossible,
they tell us ! " There was something that reminded me of
Dante's Hell in the look of all this ; and I rode swiftly

1 The Return of Paupers for England and Wales, at Ladyday 1842 is, * In-
door 221,687, Out-door 1,207,402, Total 1,429,089.' Official Report.

chap. I.] MIDAS 8

So many hundred thousands sit in workhouses : and other
hundred thousands have not yet got even workhouses ; and in
thrifty Scotland itself, in Glasgow or Edinburgh City, in their
dark lanes, hidden from all but the eye of God, and of rare
Benevolence the minister of God, there are scenes of woe and
destitution and desolation, such as, one may hope, the Sun
never saw before in the most barbarous regions where men
dwelt. Competent witnesses, the brave and humane Dr.
Alison, who speaks what he knows, whose noble Healing Art
in his charitable hands becomes once more a truly sacred one,
report these things for us : these things are not of this year,
or of last year, have no reference to our present state of com-
mercial stagnation, but only to the common state. Not in
sharp fever-fits, but in chronic gangrene of this kind is Scot-
land suffering. A Poor-law , any and every Poor-law, it may
be observedj^js^but a temporary, mgasurej an anodyne, not a
remedy : Rich and Poor, when once the naked facts of their
condition have come into collision, cannot long subsist together
on a mere Poor-law. True enough : — and yet, human beings
cannot be left to die f ScotTanct too, tilTsomethhTg better
come, must have a Poor-law, if Scotland is not to be a byword
among the nations. O, what a waste is there ; of noble and
thrice-noble national virtues ; peasant Stoicisms, Heroisms ;
valiant manful habits, soul of a Nation's worth, — which all
the metal of Potosi cannot purchase back ; to which the
metal of Potosi, and all you can buy with it, is dross and
dust !

Why dwell on this aspect of the matter ? It is too indis-
putable, not doubtful now to any one. Descend where you
will into the lower class, in Town or Country, by what avenue
you will, by Factory Inquiries, Agricultural Inquiries, by
Revenue Returns, by Mining-Labourer Committees, by opening
your own eyes and looking, the same sorrowful result discloses
itself : you have to admit that the working body of this rich
English Nation has sunk or is fast sinking into a state, to
which, all sides of it considered, there was literally never any


parallel. At Stockport Assizes, — and this too has no refer-
ence to the present state of trade, being of date prior to that,
— a Mother and a Father are arraigned and found guilty of
poisoning three of their children, to defraud a ( burial-society '
of some 31. 8s. due on the death of each child : they are
arraigned, found guilty ; and the official authorities, it is
whispered, hint that perhaps the case is not solitary, that
perhaps you had better not probe farther into that depart-
ment of things. This is in the autumn of 1841 ; the crime
itself is of the previous year or season. ' Brutal savages,
degraded Irish, 1 mutters the idle reader of Newspapers ; hardly
lingering on this incident. Yet it is an incident worth
lingering on; the depravity, savagery and degraded Irishism
being never so well admitted. In the British land, a human
Mother and Father, of white skin and professing the Christian
religion, had done this "thing; they, with their Irishism and
necessity and savagery, had been driven to do it. Such
instances are like the highest mountain apex emerged into
view; under which lies a whole mountain region and land,
not yet emerged. A human Mother and Father had said
to themselves, What shall we do to escape starvation ? We
are deep sunk here, in our dark cellar; and help is far. —
Yes, in the Ugolino Hunger-tower stern things happen ; best-
loved little Gaddo fallen dead on his Father's knees ! — The
Stockport Mother and Father think and hint : Our poor little
starveling Tom, who cries all day for victuals, who will see
only evil and not good in this world : if he were out of misery
at once ; he well dead, and the rest of us perhaps kept alive ?
It is thought, and hinted ; at last it is done. And now Tom
being killed, and all spent and eaten, Is it poor little starveling
Jack that must go, or poor little starveling Will ? — Whaia
committee. of ways and means !

In starved sieged cities, in the uttermost doomed ruin of
old Jerusalem fallen under the wrath of God, it was pro-
phesied and said, * The hands of the pitiful women have
sodden their own children.' The stern Hebrew imagination


could conceive no blacker gulf of wretchedness ; that was the
ultimatum of degraded god-punished man. And we here, in
modern England, exuberant with supply of all kinds, besieged
by nothing if it be not by invisible Enchantments, are we

reaching that ? How come these things ? Wherefore

are they, wherefore should they be?

Nor are they of the St. Ives workhouses, of the Glasgow
lanes, and Stockport cellars, the only unblessed among us.
This successful industry of England, with its plethoric wealth,
has as yet made nobody rich ; it is an^nchanted wealthy and
belongs yet to nobody. We might ask, Which of us has it
enriched ? We can spend thousands where we once spent
hundreds ; but can purchase nothing good with them. In
Poor and Rich, instead of noble thrift and plenty, there is
idle luxury alternating with mean scarcity and inability. We
have sumptuous garnitures for our Life, but have forgotten to
^ZfcEEdatthe middle of them. It is an enchanted wealth ; no
man of us can yet touch it. The class of men who feel that
they are traly^ netter off by means of it, let them give us their


Many men eat finer cookery, drink dearer liquors, — with
what advantage they can report, and their Doctors can : but
in the heart of them, i f we go out of the dyspeptic stomach,
what increase of blessedness is .there? Are they better,
beautifuler, stronger, braver? Are they even what they call
* happier'? Do they look with satisfaction on more things
and human faces in this GodVEarth ; do more things and
human faces look with satisfaction on them ? Not so.
Human faces gloom discordantly, disloyally on one another.
Things, if it be not mere cotton and iron things, are growing
disobedient to man. The Master Worker is enchanted, for
the present, like his Workhouse Workman ; clamours, in vain
hitherto, for a very simple sort of ' Liberty ' : the liberty * to
buy where he finds it cheapest, to sell where he finds it dearest.'
With guineas jingling in every pocket, he was no whit richer ;


but now, the very guineas threatening to vanish, he feels that
he is poor indeed. Poor Master Worker ! And the Master
Unworker, is not he in a still fataler situation ? Pausing
amid his game-preserves, with awful eye, — as he well may !
Coercing fifty-pound tenants ; coercing, bribing, cajoling ;
' doing what he likes with his own.' His mouth full of loud
futilities, and arguments to prove the excellence of his Corn-
law ; and in his heart the blackest misgiving, a desperate
half-consciousness that his excellent Corn-law is indefensible,
that his loud arguments for it are of a kind to strike men too
literally dumb.

To whom, then, is this wealth of England wealth ? Who
is it that it blesses ; makes happier, wiser, beautifuler, in any
way better ? Who has got hold of it, to make it fetch and
carry for him, like a true servant, not like a false mock-
servant ; to do him any real service whatsoever ? As yet no
one. We have more riches than any Nation ever had before ;
we have less good of them than any Nation ever had before.
Our successful industry is hitherto unsuccessful ; a strange
success, if we stop here ! In the midst of plethoric plenty,
the people perish ; with gold walls, and full barns, no man
feels himself safe or satisfied. Workers, Master Workers,
Unworkers, all men, come to a pause ; stand fixed, and cannot
farther. Fatal paralysis spreading inwards, from the extremi-
ties, in St. Ives workhouses, in Stockport cellars, through all
limbs, as if towards the heart itself. Have we actually got
enchanted, then ; accursed by some god ? —

Midas longed for gold, and insulted the Olympians. He
got gold, so that whatsoever he touched became gold, — and
he, with his long ears, was little the better for it. Midas
had misjudged the celestial music- tones ; Midas had insulted
Apollo and the gods : the gods gave him his wish, and a pair
of long ears, which also were a good appendage to it. What
a truth in these old Fables !



How true, for example, is that other old Fable of the
Sphinx, who sat by the wayside, propounding her riddle to
the passengers, which if they could not answer she destroyed
them ! Such a Sphinx is this Life of ours, to all men and
societies of men. Nature, like the Sphinx, is of womanly
celestial loveliness and tenderness ; the face and bosom of a
goddess, but ending in claws and the body of a lioness..
There is in her a celestial beauty, — wTn^h" ineans "celestial
order, pliancy to wisdom ; but there is also a darkness, a
ferocity, fatality, which are infernal. She is a goddess, but
one not yet disimprisoned ; one still half-imprisoned, — the
articulate, lovely, still encased in the inarticulate, chaotic.
How true ! And does she not propound her riddles to us ?
Of each man she asks daily, in mild voice, yet with a terrible
significance, * Knpwest thou the meaning of this Day ? What
-thou, canst do Today ; wisely attempt to do?' Nature,
Universe, Destiny, Existence, howsoever we name this grand
unnamable Fact in the midst of which we live and struggle,
is as a heavenly bride and conquest to the wise and brave, to
them who can discern her behests and do them ; a destroying
fiend to them who cannot. Answer her riddle, it is well with
thee. Answer it not, pass on regarding it not, it will answer
itself ; the solution for thee is a thing of teeth anth claws ;
Nature is a dumb lioness, deaf to thy pleadings, fiercely
devouring. Thou art not now her victorious bridegroom ;
thou art her mangled victim, scattered on the precipices, as a
slave found treacherous, recreant, ought to be and must.

With Nations it is as with individuals : Can they rede the
riddle of Destiny ? This English Nation, will it get to know
the meaning of its strange new Today ? Is there sense enough
extant, discoverable anywhere or anyhow, in our united twenty-


seven million heads to discern the same ; valour enough in
our twenty-seven million hearts to dare and do the bidding

Online LibraryThomas CarlyleThe works of Thomas Carlyle (Volume v.10) → online text (page 1 of 28)