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understanding, he has either placed one immeasurably below
the other, or else has mischievously insisted on treating them
as identical. The dictates of a kind heart are of superior force
to the maxims of political economy ; swift and peremptory
resolution is a safer guide than a balancing judgment. If the
will works easily and surely, we may assume the rectitude of
the moving impulse. All this is no caricature of a system


which sets sentiment, sometimes hard sentiment and sometimes
soft sentiment, above reason and method.

In other words, the writer who in these days has done more
than anybody else to fire men's hearts with a feeling for right
and an eager desire for social activity, has with deliberate
contempt thrust away from him the only instriunents by which
we can make sure what right is, and that our social action is
wise and efiective. A born poet, only wanting perhaps a clearer
feeling for form and a more delicate spiritual self-possession, to
have added another name to the illustrious catalogue of English
singers, he has been driven by the impetuosity of his sympathies
to attack the scientific side of social questions in an imaginative
and highly emotional manner. Depth of benevolent feeling is
unhappily no proof of fitness for handling complex problem?,
and a fine sense of the picturesque no more a qualification for
dealing efiectively with the difficulties of an old society, than
the composition of Wordsworth's famous sonnet on Westminster
Bridge was any reason for supposing that the author would have
made a comjDctent Commissioner of Works.

Why should society, with its long and deep-hidden pro-
cesses of growth, its innumerable intricacies and far-ofi" historic
complexities, be as an open book to any reader of its pages who
brings acuteness and passion, but no patience nor calm accuracy
of meditation ? Objects of thought and observation far
simpler, more free from all blinding and distorting elements,
more accessible to direct and ocidar inspection, are by rational
consent reserved for the calmest and most austere moods and
methods of human intelligence. Nor is dentmciation of the
conditions of a problem the quickest step towards solving it.
Vituperation of the fact that sujDply and demand practically
regulate certain kinds of bargain, is no contribution to sys-
tematic efibrts to discover some more moral regulator. Take


all the invective tliat Mr. Carlyle has poured out against
political economy, the Dismal Science, and Gospel according to
M'Croudy. Granting the absolute and entire inadequateness
of political economy to sum up the laws and conditions of a
healthy social state, — and no one more than the present writer
deplores the mischief which the application of the maxims of
political economy by ignorant and selfish spirits has effected in
confirming the worst tendencies of the commercial character, —
yet is it not a first condition of our being able to substitute
better machinery for the ordinary rules of self-interest, that we
know scientifically how those rules do and must operate ?
Again, in another field, it is well to cry out, ' Caitiff, we hate
thee,' with a ' hatred, a hostility inexorable, unappeasable, which
blasts the scoundrel, and all scoundrels ultimately, into black
annihilation and disappearance from the scene of things.' ^ But
this is slightly vague. It is not scientific. There are caitiffs and
caitiffs. There is a more and a less of scoundrelism, as there is
a more and a less of black annihilation, and we must have
systematic jurisprudence, with its classification of caitiffs, and
its graduated blasting. Has Mr. Carlyle's passion, or have the
sedulous and scientific labours of that Bentham, whose name
with him is a symbol of evil, done most in what he calls the
Scoundrel-province of Beform within the last half-century ?
Sterling's criticism on Teufelsdrockh told a hard but whole-
some truth to Teufelsdrockh's creator. ' Wanting peace him-
self,' said Sterling, 'his fierce dissatisfaction fixes on all that
is weak, corrupt, and imperfect around him ; and instead of a
calm and steady co-operation with all those who are endeavour-
ing to apply the highest ideas as remedies for the worst evils,
he holds himself in savage isolation.' ^

(1) Latter-Bay Tamphlets. II. ]\rodel Prisons, p. 92.

(2) Letter to Mr. Carlyle, in the Life, Pt. ii. c. ii.


Mr. Carlyle assures us of Bonaparte that lie had an instinct
of nature better than his culture was, and illustrates it by the
story that during the Egyptian expedition, when his scientific
men were busy arguing that there could be no God, Bonaparte,
looking up to the stars, confuted them decisively by saying,
* Very ingenious. Messieurs ; but who made all that?' Surely
the most inconclusive answer since coxcombs vanquished
Berkeley with a grin. It is, however, a type of Mr. Carlyle's
faith in the instinct of nature, as superseding the necessity for
patient logical method ; a faith, in other words, in crude and
uninterpreted sense. Insight, indeed, goes far, but it no more
entitles its possessor to dispense with reasoned discipline and
system in treating scientific subjects, than it relieves him from
the necessity of conforming to the physical conditions of health.
Why should society be the one field of thought in which a man
of genius is at liberty to assume all his major premisses, and
swear all his conclusions ?

The deep unrest of unsatisfied soids meets its earliest solace
in the effective and sympathetic expression of the same unrest
from the lips of another. To look it in the face is the first
approach to a sedative. To find our discontent with the actual,
our yearning for an undefined ideal, our aspiration after impos-
sible heights of being, shared and amplified in the emotional
speech of a man of genius, is the beginning of consolation.
Some of the most generous spirits a hundred years ago found
this in the eloquence of Rousseau, and some of the most
generous spirits of this time and place have found it in the
writer of the Sartor. In ages not of faith, there will always be
multitudinous troops of people crying for the moon. If such
sorrowful pastime be ever permissible to men, it has been
natural and lawful this long while in pree-revolutionary


England, as it was natural and lawful a century since in prac-
revolutlonary France. A man born into a community where
political forms, from tLe monarcliy down to tlie popular chamber,
are mainly hollow shams disguising the coarse supremacy of
wealth, where religion is mainly official and political, and is
ever too ready to dissever itself alike from the spirit of justice,
the spirit of charitj'-, and the spirit of truth, and where litera-
ture does not as a rule permit itself to discuss serious subjects
frankly and worthil}- — a community, in short, where the great
aim of all classes and orders with power is by dint of rigorous
silence, fast shutting of the eyes, and stern stopping of the ears,
somehow to keep the social pyramid on its apex, and to preserve
for England its glorious fame as a paradise for the well-to-do, a
purgatory for the able, and a hell for the poor — why, a man
born into all this with a heart something softer than a flint,
and with intellectual vision something more acute than that of
a Troglodyte, may well be allowed to turn aside and cry for
moons for a season.

Impotent unrest, however, is followed in Mr. Carlyle by
what is socially an impotent solution, just as it was with
E/Ousseau. To bid a man do his duty in one page, and then in
the next to Avarn him sternly away from utilitarianism, from
political economy, from all ' theories of the moral sense,' and
from any other definite means of ascertaining what duty may
chance to be, is but a bald and naked counsel. Spiritual
nullity and material confusion in a society are not to be
repaired by a transformation of egotism, querulous, brooding,
marvelling, into egotism, active, practical, objective, not uncom-
placent. The moral movements to which the instinctive im-
pulses of humanity fallen on evil times uniformly give birth,
early Christianity, for instance, or the socialism of llousscau,
may destroy a society, but thc}- cannot save it unless in cou-



junction witH organising policy. A thorough appreciation of
fiscal and economic truths was at least as indispensable for the
life of the Roman Empire as the acceptance of a Messiah ; and
it was only in the hands of a great statesman like Gregory vii.
that Christianity became at last an instrument powerful enough
to save civilisation. What the moral renovation of Rousseau
did for France, we all know. Now Rousseau's was far more
profoundly social than the doctrine of Mr. Carlyle, which, while
in name a renunciation of self, has all its foundations in the
purest individualism. Rousseau, notwithstanding the method of
Emile, treats man as part of a collective whole, contracting
manifold relations and owing manifold duties ; and he always
appeals to the love and sympathy which an imaginary god of
nature has implanted in the heart. His aim is unity. Mr.
Carlyle, following the same method of obedience to his own
personal emotions, unfortified by patient reasoning, lands at the
other extremity, and lays all his stress on the separatist instincts.
The individual stands alone, confronted by the Eternities ;
between these and his own soul exists the one central relation.
This has all the fundamental egotism of the doctrine of personal
salvation, emancipated from fable, and varnished with an
emotional phrase. The doctrine has been very widely inter-
preted, and without any forcing, as a religious expression for
the conditions of commercial success.

If we look among our own countrymen, we find that the
apostle of self-renunciation is nowhere so beloved as by the best
of those whom steady self-reliance and thrifty self-securing and
a firm eye to the main chance have got successfully on in the
world. A Carlylean anthology, or volimie of the master's sen-
tences, might easily be composed, that should contain the
highest form of private liturgy accepted by the best of the
industrial classes, masters or men. They forgive or overlook


the writer's denunciations of Beaver Industrialisms, wliicli they
attribute to his caprice or spleen. This is the worst of an
emotional teacher, that people take only so much as they please
from him, while with a reasoner they must either refute by
reason or else they must accept by reason, and not at simple
choice. When trade is brisk, and England is successfully com-
peting in the foreign markets, the books that enjoin silence
and self-annihilation have a wonderful popularity in the manu-
facturing districts. This circumstance is honourable both to
them and to him, as far as it goes, but it furnishes some reason
for suspecting that our most vigorous moral reformer, so far
from propelling us in new grooves, has in truth only given
new firmness and coherency to tendencies that were strongly
marked enough in the national character before. He has
increased the fervour of the country, but without materially
changing its objects ; there is all the less disguise among us as
a result of his teaching, but no radical modification of the sen-
timents which people are sincere in. The most stirring general
appeal to the emotions, to be effective for more than negative
purposes, miust lead up to definite maxims and specific precepts.
As a negative renovation Mr. Carljde's doctrine was perfect.
It effectually put an end to the mood of Byronism. May we
say that with the neutralisation of Byron, his most decisive and
special work came to an end ? May we not say, further, that
the true renovation of England, if such a process be ever
feasible, will lie in. a quite other method than this of emotion ?
It will lie not in more moral earnestness only, but in a more-
open intelligence ; not merely in a more dogged resolution to
work and be silent, but in a ready willingness to use the under-
standing. The poison of our sins, says Mr. Carlyle in his latest
utterance, * is not intellectual dimness chiefly, but torpid unve-
racity of heart.' Yes, but all unveracity, torpid or fervid,



breeds intellectual dimness, and it is this last wliicli prevents
us from seeing a way out of the present ignoble situation. We
need light more than beat ; intellectual alertness, faitb in the
reasoning faculty, accessibility to new ideas. To refuse to use
tbe intellect patiently and with system, to decline to seelc
scientific truth, to prefer effusive indulgence of emotion to the
laborious and disciplined and candid exploration of new. ideas,
is not this, too, a torpid unveracity ? And has not Mr. Carlyle,
by the impatience of his method, done somewhat to deejaen it ?
It is very well to invite us to moral reform, to bring our-
selves to be of heroic mind, as the surest way to ' the blessed
Aristocracy of the Wisest.' But how shall we know the wisest
when we see them, and how shall a nation know, if not by
keen respect and watchfulness for intellectual truth and the
teachers of it ? Much as we may admire Mr. Carlyle's many
gifts, and highly as we may revere his character, it is yet very
doubtful whether anybody has as yet learnt from him the pre-
cious lesson of scrupulosity and conscientiousness in actively
and constantly using the intelligence. This would have been
the solid foundation of the true hero-worship.

Let thus much have been said on the head of temperament.
The historic position also of every writer is an indispensable
key to many things in his teaching.^ We have to remember in
Mr. Carlyle's ease, that he was born in the memorable year
when the French Revolution, in its narrower sense, was closed
by the AVhiff of Grrapeshot, and when the great century of
emancipation and illumination was ending darkly in battles

(1) The dates of Mr. Carlyle's principal compositions are these : — Life of
Schiller, 1825; Sartor Sesartus, 1831; Fiench Revolution, 1837; Chartism, 1839;
Bero-Worship, 1840; Fast and Present, 1843; Cromicell, 1845; Latter-Bay
Famp/tlets, 1850; Friedrich the Second, 1858 — 1865; Shooting Niagara,

CARLYLE. 21 3-

and confusion. During his youth the reaction was in full
flow, and the Lamp had been handed to runners who not only
reversed the ideas and methods, but even turned aside from the
goal of their precursors. Hopefulness and enthusiastic confi-
dence in humanity when freed from the fetters of spiritual
superstition and secular tyranny, marked all the most charac-
teristic and influential specidations of the two generations
before '89. The appalling failure which attended the splendid
attempt to realise these hopes in a renewed and perfected social
structure, had no more than its natural effect in turning men's
minds back, not to the past of Rousseau's imagination, but to
the past of recorded history. The single epoch in the annals of
Europe since the rise of Christianity, for which no good word
coidd be found, was the epoch of Voltaire. The hideousness of
the Christian church in the ninth and tenth centuries was
passed lightly over by men who had only eyes for the moral
obliquity of the church of the Encyclopoedia. The brilliant
but profoundly inadequate essays on Yoltaire and Diderot were
the outcome in Mr. Carlyle of the same reactionary spirit.
Nobody now, we may suppose, who is competent to judge,
thinks that that estimate of ' the net product of the tumidtuous
Atheism ' of Diderot and his fellow-workers, is a satisfactory
account of the influence and significance of the Encyclopedia ;
nor that to sum up Voltaire, with his burning passion for
justice, his indefatigable humanity, his splendid energy in intel-
lectual production, his righteous hatred of superstition, as a
supreme master of pers{/Iarje, can be at all a process partaking
of finality. The fact that to the eighteenth century belong the
subjects of more than half of these thirty volumes, is a proof
of the fascination of the period for an author who has never
ceased to villipend it. The saying is perhaps as true in these
matters as of private relations, tliat hatred is not so far removed


from love as indifference is. Be that as it may, the Carlylean
view of the eighteenth century as a time of mere scepticism
and unbelief, is now clearly untenable to men who remember
the fervour of Jean Jacques, and the more rational, but not
any less fervid faith of the disciples of Perfectibility. But
this was not so clear fifty years since, when the crash and dust
of demolition had not subsided enough to let men see how much
had risen up behind. The fire of the new school had been
taken from the very conflagration which they execrated, but
they were not held back from denouncing the eighteenth
century by the reflection that, at any rate, its thought and
action had made ready the way for much of what is best in the

Mr. Carlyle himself has told us about Coleridge, and the
m.ovement of which Coleridge was the leader. That movement
has led men in widely different ways. In one direction it has
stagnated in the sunless swamps of a theosophy, from which a
cloud of sedulous ephemera still suck a little spiritual moistvire.
In another it led to the sacramental and sacerdotal develop-
ments of Anglicanism. In a third, among men with strong
practical energy, to the benevolent bluster of a sort of Chris-
tianity which is called muscular because it is not intellectual.
It would be an error to suppose that these and the other
streams that have sprung from the same source, did not in the
days of their fulness fertilise and gladden many lands. The
wordy pietism of one school, the mimetic rites of another, the
romping heroics of the third, are degenerate forms. How long
they are likely to endure, it would be rash to predict among
a nation whose established teachers and official preachers are
prevented by an inveterate timidity from trusting themselves
to that disciplined intelligence, in which the superior minds of
the last century had such courageous faith.


Mr. Carlyle drauk in some sort at the same fountain.
Coleridgeau ideas were in tlie air. It was tliere, probably,
that he acquired that sympathy with the past, or M'ith certain
portions of the past, that feeling of the unity of history, and
that conviction of the necessity of binding our theory of history
fast with our theory of other things, in all of which he so
strikingly resembles the great Anglican leaders of a generation
ago, and in gaining some of Avhich so strenuous an effort must
have been needed to modify the prepossessions of a Scotch
Puritan education. No one has contributed more powerfully to
that movement which, drawing force from many and various
sides, has brought out the difference between the historian and
the gazetteer or antiquary. One half of Past and Present
might have been written by one of the Oxford chiefs in the
days of the Tracts. Vehement native force was too strong for
such a man to remain in the luminous haze which made the
Coleridgean atmosphere. A well-known chapter in the Life
of Sterling, which some, indeed, have found too migracious,
shows how little hold he felt Coleridge's ideas to be capable
of retaining, and how little permanent satisfaction resided in
them. Coleridge, in fact, was not only a poet but a thinker as
well ; he had science of a sort as well as imagination, but it
was not science for headlong and impatient souls. Mr. Carlyle
has probably never been able to endure a sub-division all his
life, and the infinite ramifications of the central division between
object and subject might well be with him an unprofitable
weariness to the flesh.

In England, the greatest literary organ of the Hevolution
was unquestionably Byron, whose genius, daring, and melo-
dramatic lawlessness, exercised what now seems such an amazing
fascination over the least revolutiouar}'- of European nations.
Unfitted for scientific work and full of ardour, Mr. Carlyle


found Lis raission in rusliing witli all Lis miglit to tLe annihi-
lation of this terrible poet, who, like some gorgon, hydra, or
chimera dire planted at the gate, carried off a yearly tale of
youths and virgins from the city. In literature, only a revolu-
tionist can thoroughly overpower a revolutionist. Mr. Carlyle
had fully as much daring as Byron ; his writing at its best, if
without the many-eyed minuteness and sustained pulsing force
of Byron, has still the full swell and tide and energy of genius ;
he is as lawless in his disrespect for some things established.
He had the unspeakable advantage of being that which, though
not in this sense, only his own favourite word of contempt
describes, respectable ; and, for another thing, of being rug-
gedly sincere. Carljlisni is the male of Byronism. It is
Byronism with thew and sinew, bass pipe and shaggy bosom.
There is the same grievous complaint against the time and its
men and its spirit, something even of the same contemptuous
despair, the same sense of the puniness of man in the centre of
a cruel and frowning universe : but there is in Carlylism a
deliverance from it all, indeed the only deliverance possible.
Its despair is a despair without misery. Labour in a high
spirit, duty done, and right service performed in fortitudinous
temper, — here was, not indeed a way out, but a way of erect
living within.

Against Byronism the ordinary moralist and preacher could
really do nothing, because Byronism was an appeal that lay in
regions of the mind only accessible by one with an eye and a
large poetic feeling for the infinite whole of things. It was
not the rebellion only in Manfred, nor the wit in Don Juan, nor
the graceful melancholy of Childe Harold, which made their
author an idol, and still makes him one to multitudes of
Frenchmen and Germans and Italians. One prime secret of
it is the air and spaciousness, the freedom and elemental


grandeur of Byron. Who has not felt thi.s to ho one of
the glories of Mr. Carlyle's work, that it, too, is huge and
spacious, rich with the fulness of a sense of things unknown
and wonderful, and ever in the tiniest part showing us the
stupendous and overwhelming whole? The magnitude of the
universal forces enlarges the pettiness of man, and the small-
ness of his achievement and endurance takes a complexion of
greatness from the vague immensity that surrounds and impal-
pably mixes with it.

Remember further, that while in Byron the outcome of this
was rebellion, in Carlyle its outcome is reverence, a noble mood,
which is one of the highest predispositions of the English
character. The instincts of sanctification rooted in Teutonic
races, and which in the corrupt and unctuous forms of a
mechanical religious profession are so revolting, were mocked
and outraged, where they were not superciliously ignored, in
every line of the one, while in the other they were enthroned
under the name of Worship, as the very key and centre of the
right life. The prophet who never wearies of declaring that
' only in bowing down before the Higher does man feel himself
exalted,' touched solemn organ notes, that awoke a response
from dim religious depths, never reached by the stormy wailings
of the Byronic lyre. The political side of the reverential senti-
ment is equally conciliated, and the prime business of indi-
viduals and communities pronounced to be the search after
worthy objects of this divine quality of reverence. While
kings' cloaks and church-tippets are never -spared, still less
suffered to protect the dishonour of ignoble wearers of them,
the inadequateness of aggression and demolition, the necessity
of quiet order, the uncounted debt that we owe to rulers and to
all sorts of holy and great men who have given this order to
the world, all this brought repose and harmony into spirits that


the hollow thunders of universal rebellion against tyrants and
priests had worn into thinness and confusion. Again, at the
bottom of the veriest frondeur with English blood in his veins,
in his most defiant moment there lies a conviction that after all
something known as common sense is the measure of life, and
that to work hard is a demonstrated precept of common sense.
Carlylism exactly hits this and brings it forward. We cannot
wonder that JByronism was routed from the field.

It may have been in the transcendently firm and clear-
eyed intelligence of Goethe that Mr. Carlyle first found a
responsive encouragement to the profoundly positive impulses

Online LibraryJohn MorleyCritical miscellanies → online text (page 17 of 29)