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mutinous men, give no ear to priest or pontiff, who speak only
dead words, who confront modern issues with blind eyes, and
who stretch out but a palsied hand to help. ' Christianity,*
according to a well-known saying, * has been tried and failed ;
the religion of Christ remains to be tried.' One would prefer
to qualify the first clause, by admitting how much Christianity


has done for Europe even witli its old organisation, and to
restrict the charge of failure within the limits of the modern
time. To-day its failure is too patent. Whether in changed
forms and with new supplements, the teaching of its founder
is destined to be the chief inspirer of that social and human
sentiment which seems to be the only spiritual bond capable of
uniting men together again in a common and effective faith, is
a question which it is unnecessary to discuss here. ' They
talk about the first centuries of Christianity,' said De Maistre ;
'I would not be sure that they are over yet.' Perhaps not;
only if the first centuries are not yet over, it is certain that
the Christianity of the future will have to be so different from
the. Christianity of the past, as almost to demand or deserve
another name.

Even if Christianity, itself renewed, could successfully
encounter the achievement of renewing society, De Maistre's
ideal ^ a spiritual power controlling the temporal power, and
conciliating peoples with their rulers by persuasion and a
coercion only moral, appears to have little chance of being
realised. The separation of the two powers is sealed, with a
completeness that is increasingly visible ; and the principles on
which the process of the emancipation of politics is being so
rapidly carried on, demonstrate that the most marked tenden-
cies of modern civilisation are strongly hostile to a renewal in
any imaginable shape, or at any future time, of a connection
whether of virtual subordination or nominal equality, which
has laid such enormous burdens on the consciences and under-
standings of men. If the Church has the uppermost hand,
except in primitive times, it destroys freedom ; if the State is
supreme, it destroys spirituality. The free church in the free
state is an idea that every day more fully recommends itself to
the public opinion of Europe, and the sovereignty of the Pope,


like tliat of all other spiritual potentates, can only be exercised
over those who choose of their own accord to submit to it ; a
sovereignty of a kind which De Maistre thought not much
above anarchy.

To conclude, De Maistre's mind was of the highest type
of those who fill the air with the arbitrary assumptions of
theology, and the abstractions of the metaphysical stage of
thought. At every point you meet the peremptorily-declared
volition of a divine being, or the ontological property of a
natural object. The French Revolution is explained by the
will of God ; and the kings reign because they have the esjmt
royal. Every truth is absolute, not relative ; every explana-
tion is universal, not historic. These differences in method. and
point of view amply explain his arrival at conclusions that seem
so monstrous to men who look upon all knowledge as relative, and
insist that the only possible road to true opinion lies away from
volitions and abstractions in the positive generalisations df expe-
rience. There can be no more satisfactory proof of the rapidity
with which we are leaving these ancient methods, and the social
results which they produced, than the willingness with which
every rightly-instructed mind now admits how indispensable
were the first, and how beneficial the second. Those can best
appreciate De Maistre and his school, what excellence lay in
their aspirations, what wisdom in their system, who know most
clearly why their aspirations were hopeless, and what makes
their system an anachronism.



'T^HE new library edition of ]\Ir. Carlyle's works may be
taken for tbe final presentation of all that tbe author has
to say to his contemporaries, and to possess the settled form in
which he wishes his words to go to those of posterity who may
prove to have ears for them. The canon is definitely made uj:),
and the whole of the golden Gospel of Silence efiectively com-
pressed in thirty fine volumes. After all has been said about
self-indulgent mannerisms, moral perversities, phraseological
outrages, and the rest, these volumes will remain the noble
monument of the industry, originality, conscientiousness, and
genius of a noble character, and of an intellectual career that
has exercised on many sides the profoundest sort of influence
upon English feeling. Men who have long since moved far
away from these spiritual latitudes, like those who still find an
adequate shelter in them, can hardly help feeling as they turn
the pages of the now disused pieces which they were once wont
to ponder daily, that whatever later teachers may have done in
definitely shaping opinion, in giving specific form to senti-
ment, and in subjecting impulse to rational discipline, here was
the friendly fire-bearer who first convej-^ed the Promethean
spark, here the prophet who first smote the rock.

That with this sense of obligation to the master, there
mixes a less satisfactory reminiscence of youthful excess in
imitative phrases, in unseasonably apostolic readiness towards
exhortation and rebuke, in interest about the soul, a portion of
which might more profitably have been converted into care for



the head, is in most cases true. ••A hostile observer of bands of
Carlylites at Oxford and elsewhere might have been justified in
describing the imperative duty of work as the theme of many
an hour of strenuous idleness, and the superiority of golden
silence over silver speech as the text of endless bursts of jerky
rapture, while a too constant invective against cant had its
usual eflPect of developing cant with a difi'erence. To the
incorrigibly sentimental all this was sheer poison, which con-
tinues tenaciously in the system. Others of robuster character
no sooner came into contact with the world and its fortifying
exigencies, than they at once began to assimilate the whole-
some part of what they had taken in, while the rest falls
gradually and silently out. When criticism has done its just
work on the disagreeable afiectations of many of Mr. Carlyle's
disciples, and on the nature of Mr. Carlyle's opinions and their
worth as specific contributions, very few people will be found
to deny that his influence in stimulating moral energy, in
kindling enthusiasm for virtues worthy of enthusiasm, and in
stirring a sense of the reality on the one hand, and the un-
reality on the other, of all that men can do or sufier, has not
been surpassed by any teacher now living.

One of Mr. Carlyle's chief and just glories is, that for more
than forty years he has clearly seen, and kept constantly and
conspicuously in his own sight and that of his readers, the pro-
foundly important crisis in the midst of which we are living.
The moral and social dissolution in progress about us, and the
enormous peril of sailing blindfold and hajahazard, without
rudder or compass or chart, have always been fully visible to
him, and it is no fault of his if they have not become equally
plain to his contemporaries. The policy of drifting has had no
countenance from him. That a society should be likely to last
with hollow and scanty faith, with no government, with a


number of institutions hardly one of tliem real, witli a steadily
increasing mass of poverty-stricken and hopeless subjects ;
that, if it should last, it could be regarded as other than an
abomination of desolation, he has boldly and often declared to
be things incredible. We are not promoting the objects which
the social union subsists to fulfil, nor applying with energetic
spirit to the task of preparing a sounder state for our successors.
The relations between master and servant, between capitalist
and labourer, between landlord and tenant, between governing
race and subject race, between the feelings and intelligence of
the legislature and the feelings and intelligence of the nation,
between the spiritual power, literary and ecclesiastical, and
those who are under it, — the anarchy that prevails in all these,
and the extreme danger of it, have been with Mr. Carlyle a
never-ending theme. What seems to many of us the extreme
inefficiency or worse of his solutions, still allows us to feel
grateful for the vigour and perspicacity with which he has
pressed on the world the urgency of the problem.

The degree of durability which his influence is likely to
possess with the next and following generations is another and
rather sterile question, which we are not now concerned to
discuss. The unrestrained eccentricities which Mr. Carlyle's
strong individuality has precipitated in his written style may,
in spite of the poetic fineness of his imagination, which ^o
historian or humorist has excelled, still be expected to deprive
his work of that permanence which is only secured by classic
form. The incorporation of so many phrases, allusions, nick-
names, that belong only to the hour, inevitably makes the
vitality of the composition conditional on the vitality of these
transient and accidental elements which are so deeply imbedded
in it. Another consideration is that no philosophic writer,
however ardently his words may have been treasured and


followed by the people of his own time, can well be cherished
by succeeding generations, unless his name is associated
through some definable and positive contribution with the
central march of European thought and feeling. In other
"words, there is a difference between living in the history of
literature or belief, and living in literature itself and in the
minds of believers. Mr. Carlyle has been a most powerful
solvent, but it is the tendency of solvents to become merely
historic. The historian of the intellectual and moral move-
ments of Great Britain during the present century, will fail
egregiously in his task if he omits to give a large and con-
spicuous space to the author of Sartor Resartus. But it is one
thing to study historically the ideas which have influenced our
predecessors, and another thing to seek in them an influence
fruitful for ourselves. It is to be hoped that one may doubt
the permanent soundness of Mr. Carlyle's peculiar speculations,
without either doubting or failing to share that warm afiection
and reverence which his personality has worthily inspired in
many thousands of his readers. He has himself taught us to
separate these two sides of a man, and we have learnt from him
to love Samuel Johnson without reading much or a word that
the old sage wrote. ' Sterling and I walked westward,' he
says once, ' arguing coj)iously, but except in opinion not dis-

^ It is none the less for what has just been said a weightier
and a rarer privilege for a man to give a stirring impulse to
the moral activity of a generation, than to write in classic style ;
and to have impressed the spirit of his own personality deeply
upon the minds of multitudes of men, than to have composed
most of those works which the world is said not willingly to
let die. Nor, again, is to say that this higher renown belongs
1 Mr. Carlyle, to underrate the less resounding, but most sub-


stantial, services of a definite kind whicli lie has rendered both
to literature and history. This work may be in time super-
seded with the advance of knowledge, but the value of the first
service will remain unimpaired. It was he, as has been said,
' who first taught England to appreciate Goethe ; ' and not only
to appreciate Goethe, but to recognise and seek yet further
knowledge of the genius and industry of Goethe's countrymen.
His splendid drama of the French Eevolution has done, and
may be expected long to continue to do, more to bring before
our slow-moving and unimaginative public the portentous
meaning of that tremendous cataclysm, than all the other
writings on the subject in the English language put together.
His presentation of Puritanism and the Commonwealth and
Oliver CromweU first made the most elevating period of the
national history in any way really intelligible. The Life of
Frederick the Second, whatever judgment we may pass upon
its morality, or even upon its place as a work of historic art, is
a model of laborious and exhaustive narration of facts not
before accessible to the reader of history. For aU this, and for
much other work eminently useful and meritorious even from
the mechanical point of view, Mr. Carlyle deserves the warmest
recognition. His genius gave him a right to mock at the
inefiectiveness of Dryasdust, but his genius was also too true
to prevent him from adding the always needful supplement of a
painstaking industry that rivals Dryasdust's own most strenuous
toil. Take out of the mind of the English reader of ordinary
cultivation and the average journalist, usually a degree or two
lower than this, their conceptions of the French Revolution and
the English Rebellion, and their knowledge of German litera-
ture and history, as well as most of their acquaintance with the
prominent men of the eighteenth century, and we shall see
how much work Mr. Carlyle has done simply as schoolmaster.


This, however, is emphatically a secondary aspect of his
character, and of the function which he has fulfilled in relation
to the more active tendencies of modern opinion and feeling.
"We must go on to other ground, if we would find the field in
which he has laboured most ardently and with most acceptance.
History and literature have been with him, what they will
always be with wise and understanding minds of creative and
even of the higher critical faculty, — only embodiments, illustra-
tions, experiments, for ideas about religion, conduct, society,
history, government, and all the other great heads and depart-
ments of a complete social doctrine. From this point of view, the
time has perhaps come when we may fairly attempt to discern
some of the tendencies which Mr. Carlyle has initiated or
accelerated and deepened, though assuredly many years must
elapse before any adequate measure can be taken of their force
and final direction.

It would be a comparatively simple process to afiix the
regulation labels of philosophy ; to say that Mr. Carlyle is a
Pantheist in religion (or a Pot-theist, to use the alternative
whose flippancy gave such ofience to Sterling on one occasion^),
a Transcendentalist or Intuitionist in ethics, an Absolutist in
politics, and so forth, with the addition of a cloud of privative
or negative epithets at discretion. But classifications of this
sort are the worst enemies of true knowledge. Such names are
by the vast majority even of persons who think themselves
educated, imperfectly apprehended, ignorantly interpreted, and
crudely and recklessly applied. It is not too much to say that
nine out of ten people who think they have delivered them-
selves of a criticism when they call Mr. Carlyle a Pantheist,
could neither explain with any precision what Pantheism is, nor
have ever thought of determining the parts of his writings

(1) Life of John Sterliiiff, p. 153.


where this particular monster is believed to lurk. Labels are
devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking.
As I once wrote elsewhere : —

' The readiness to use general names in speaking of the
greater subjects, and the fitness which qualifies a man
to use them, commonly exist in inverse proportions. If
we reflect on the conditions out of which ordinary opinion
is generated, we may well be startled at the profuse libe-
rality with which names of the widest and most complex
and variable significance are bestowed on all hands. The
majority of the ideas which constitute most men's intellectual
stock-in-trade have accrued by processes quite distinct from
fair reasoning and consequent conviction. This is so notorious,
that it is amazing how so many people can go on freely and
rapidly labelling thinkers or writers with names which they
themselves are not competent to bestow, and which their hearers
are not competent either to understand generally, or to test in
the specific instance.'

These labels are rather more worthless than usual in the
present case, because Mr. Carlyle is ostentatiously illogical and
defiantly inconsistent ; and, therefore, the term which might
correctly describe one side of his teaching or belief would be
tolerably sure to give a wholly false impression of some of its
other "sides. The qualifications necessary to make any one of
the regidar epithets fairly applicable would have to be so many,
that the glosses would virtually overlay the text. We shall be
more likely to reach an instructive appreciation by discarding
such substitutes for examination, and considering, not what
pantheistic, absolutist, transcendental, or any other doctrine
means, or what it is worth, but what it is that Mr. Carlyle
means about men, their character, their relations to one another,
and what that is worth.


Witli most men and women the master element in tlieir
opinions is obviously neither their own reason nor tlieir own
imagination, independently exercised, but only mere use and
wont, chequered by fortuitous sensations, and modified in the
better cases by the influence of a favourite teacher ; while in
the worse the teacher is the favourite, who happens to chime in
most harmoniously with prepossessions, or most effectually to
nurse and exaggerate them. Among the superior minds the
balance between reason and imagination is scarcely ever held
exactly true, nor is either firmly kej)t within the precise bounds
that are proper to it. It is a question of temperament which
of the two mental attitudes becomes fixed and habitual, as it is
a question of temperament how violently either of them straitens
and distorts the normal faculties of vision. The man who
prides himself on a hard head, which would usually be better
described as a thin head, may and constantly does fall into a
confirmed manner of judging character and circumstance, so
narrow, one-sided, and elaborately superficial, as to make
common sense shudder at the crimes that are committed in the
divine name of reason. Excess on the other side leads people
into emotional transports, in which the pre-eminent respect that
is due to truth, the difficulty of discovering truth, the narrow-
ness of the way that leads thereto, the merits of intellectual
precision and definiteness, and even the merits of moral pre-
cision and definiteness, are all effectually veiled by purple or
fiery clouds of anger, sympathy, and sentimentalism, which
imagination has hung over the intelligence.

The familiar distinction between the poetic and the scientific
temper is another way of stating the same difference. The one
fuses or crystallises external objects and circumstances in the
medium of human feeling and passion ; the other is concerned
with the relations of objects and circumstances among them-


selves, including in them all the facts of human consciousness,
and with the discovery and classification of these relations. There
is, too, a corresponding distinction between the aspects which
conduct, character, social movement, and the objects of nature
are able to present, according as we scrutinise them with a view
to exactitude of knowledge, or are stirred by some appeal
which they make to our various faculties and forms of sensi-
bility, our tenderness, sympathy, awe, terror, love of beauty,
and all the other emotions in this momentous catalogue. The
starry heavens have one side for the astronomer, as astronomer,
and another for the poet, as poet. The nightingale, the sky-
lark, the cuckoo, move one sort of interest in an ornithologist,
and a very different sort in a Shelley or a Wordsworth. The
hoary and stupendous formations of the inorganic world, the
thousand tribes of insects, the great universe of plants, from
those whose size and form and hue make us afraid as if they
were deadly monsters, down to * the meanest flower that blows,'
all these are clothed with one set of attributes by scientific
intelligence, and with another by sentiment, fancy, and ima-
ginative association.

The contentiousness of rival schools of philosophy has
obscured the application of the same distinction to the various
orders of fact more nearly and immediately relating to man and
the social union. One school has maintained the virtually
unmeaning doctrine that the will is free, and therefore its
followers never gave any quarter to the idea that man was as
proper an object of scientific scrutiny morally and historically,
as they could not deny him to be anatomically and physiologi-
cally. Their enemies have been more concerned to dislodge
them from this position, than to fortify, organise, and cultivate
their own. The consequences have not been without their
danger. Poetic persons have rushed in where scientific persons


ouglit not to have feared to tread. That human character and
the order of events have their poetic aspect, and that their
poetic treatment demands the rarest and most valuable qualities
of mind, is a truth which none but narrow and superficial men
of the world are rash enough to deny. But that there is a
scientific asj)ect of these things, an order among them that can
only be understood and criticised and efiectually modified
scientifically, by using all the caution and precision and infinite
patience of the truly scientific spirit, is a truth that is constantly
ignored even by men and women of the loftiest and most
humane nature. In such cases misdirected and uncontrolled
sensibility ends in mournful waste of their own energy, in the
certain disappointment of their own aims, and where such
sensibility is backed by genius, eloquence, and a peculiar set
of public conditions, in prolonged and fatal disturbance of

Rousseau was the great type of this triumphant and dan-
gerous sophistry of the emotions. The Rousseau of these times
for English-speaking nations is Thomas Carlyle. An apology
is perhaps needed for mentioning one of such simple, veracious,
disinterested, and wholly highminded life, in the same breath
with one of the least sane men that ever lived. Community of
method, like misery, makes men acquainted with strange bed-
fellows. Two men of very difierent degrees of moral worth
may notoriously both preach the same faith and both pursue the
same method, and the method of Rousseau is the method of
Mr. Carlyle. With each of them thought is an aspiration, and
justice a sentiment, and society a retrogression. Each bids us
look within our own bosoms for truth and right, postpones
reason to feeling, and refers to introspection and a factitious
something styled Nature, questions only to be truly solved by
external observation and history. In connection with each of


them lias been exemplified the cruelty inherent in sentimental-
ism, when circumstances draw away the mask. Not the least
conspicuous of the disciples of Rousseau was Robespierre. His
works lay on the table of the Committee of Public Safety. The
theory of the Reign of Terror was invented, and mercilessly
reduced to practice, by men whom the visions of Rousseau had
fired, and who were not afraid nor ashamed to wade through
oceans of blood to the promised land of humanity and fine
feeling. We in our days have seen the same result of senti-
mental doctrine in the barbarous love of the battle-field, the
retrograde passion for methods of repression, the contempt
for human life, the impatience of orderly and peaceful solution.
We begin with introspection and the Eternities, and end in
blood and iron. Again, Rousseau's first piece was an anathema
upon the science and art of his time, and a denunciation of
books and speech. Mr. Carlyle, in exactly the same spirit, has
denounced logic mills, warned us all away from literature, and
habitually subordinated discipline of the intelligence to the
passionate assertion of the will. There are passages in which
he speaks respectfully of Intellect, but he is always careful to
show that he is using the term in a special sense of his own,
and confounding it with ' the exact summary of human Worth,'
as in one place he defines it. Thus, instead of co-ordinating
moral worthiness with intellectual energ}^, virtue with intelli-
gence, right action of the will with scientific processes of the

Online LibraryJohn MorleyCritical miscellanies → online text (page 16 of 29)