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||Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)|
Scottish-born British historian and essayist who was a leading figure in the Victorian era. Carlyle's collected works (1974) comprises 30 volumes. In the age which put faith in legislation, cooperation and mechanization, Carlyle believed in a leader, a hero, whom people must recognize and worship. In his famous work On Heroes and Hero Worship (1841) his examples ranged from Mohammed to Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson.
Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfries and Galloway, the son of a stonemason and small farmer. He was brought up in a strict Calvinist household. At the age of 15 he went to University of Edinburgh, receiving his B.A. in 1813. From 1813 to 1818 he studied for the ministry of the Church of Scotland, but abandoned this course and studied law for a while.
Carlyle taught at Annan Academy (1814-16), at Kircaldy Grammar School
(1816-18), and privately in Edinburgh (1818-22). During this time he worked on
his Life of Schiller, which was first published by the London
Magazine in 1823-24. He wrote contributions for Brewter's Edinburgh Encyclopedia, also contributing to such journals as Edinburgh Review and Fraser's Magazine. From 1824 he was a full-time writer and undertook thorough study of German literature, especially Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Carlyle's essays on German philosophy introduced many new ideas to the
British public. In addition, he produced English translations of Goethe,
which were highly acclaimed. Translating the word "Umgebung" in Goethe's Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), Carlyle coined the term "environment".
Carlyle was beset by terrible dyspepsia; "it was as if a rat were gnawing at the pit of his stomach," as his biographer Richard Garnett wrote in 1887. In 1826 Carlyle married Jane Baillie Welsh, whom he had met when he was still far from famous. 1823 she wrote to him: "Your Friend I will be, your truest most devoted friend, while I breath[e] the breath of life; but your wife! never never! Not though you were as rich as Croesus, as honoured and renowned as you yet shall be – " (16 September 1823) Carlyle answered two days later: "You love me as a sister, and will not wed: I love you in all possible senses of the world, and will not wed, any more than you. Does this reassure you?" Alfred Lord Tennyson defended their marriage, when it was suggested that it was a mistake: "By any other arrangement, four people would have been unhappy instead of two."
Jane was a doctor's daughter, well-educated, pretty, and her wit made her an excellent letterwriter – her circle of correspondents included many eminent Victorians. Later Virginia Woolf called her "the most caustic, the most concrete, the most clear-sighted of women." However, she never tried to outshine her famous husband. The Carlyles lived first years of their marriage on a remote farm in Dumfriesshire – the place was a shock for Jane who was used to cultured life. Oppressed by financial difficulties the Carlyles returned to Jane's farm at Craigenputtock and concentrated on writing. While staying in London in 1831, Carlyle became acquainted with J.S. Mill, who later introduced him to Emerson, the American philosopher and essayist.
When Emerson arrived at the home of Jane and Thomas Carlyle, he had read Carlyle's essays and admired his style. "The visit of an angel," called Jane their meeting with Emerson. Carlyle started with Emerson a correspondence which lasted decades despite their different characters. "He talks like a very unhappy man, profoundly solitary, displeased & hindered by all men and things about him," Emerson said about his friend. Wordsworth thought that Carlyle wrote obscurely, that he was "sometimes insane."
In 1834 Carlyle moved with his wife to London. His breakthrough work, Sartor Resartus, was published in 1833-34. Part autobiography, part philosophy, it was written using an energetic, complex language that came to be called Carlylese. Another major work, a three volume history of the French Revolution, came out in 1837, and a biography of Fredrick the Great in 1858-65. From 1837 to 1840 Carlyle undertook several series of lectures, of which the most significant was On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Although Carlyle recognized the achievements of Cromwell and Napoleon, he saw that in his own time the the hero needed was a thinker and writer.
After his wife's death in 1866, from which he never completely recovered, Carlyle retired from public life, and wrote little. Jane had recorded her bitter thoughts in a secret journal, which Carlyle found, but in a letter to Emerson he stated: "Bright, heroic, tender, true and noble was that lost treasure of my heart, who faithfully accompanied me in all the rocky ways and climbings; and I am forever poor without her." He gave her papers and letters in 1871 to his friend J.A. Froude, who published them after Carlyle's death. Froude also published Carlyle's Reminiscences (1881) and a four-volume biography (1882-84). Carlyle was appointed Rector of the University of Edinburgh in 1866, and in 1874 he received Prussian Order of Merit. However, Carlyle declined baronecy from Disraeli. Carlyle died on February 5, 1881 in London. His grave is in Ecclefechan.
History gave Carlyle an abundance of heroes, and relying on his intuitive
spirit he wrote such works as The French Revolution (1837), On Heroes and Hero Worship, Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches (1845), Frederick II of Prussia (1858-65). He had to rewrite The French Revolution after
he had sent the manuscript to John Stuart Mill, whose maid burned
it – the only copy – for waste paper. Mill offered the author
£200 compensation, he eventually accepted £100. They remained friends
until Carlyle defended the brutal methods with which the Governor of
Jamaica had quelled a rebellion, an action condemned by the liberal
Carlyle opposed analytic reasoning and quasi-scientific treatment of social questions by the rationalist political economists, and advocated the more emotional and intuitive approach of the 18th and 19th century German thinkers like Richter and Goethe. Carlyle's Sartor Resartus was a disguised spiritual autobiography, in which he faces the tendencies to intellectual skepticism and dedicates himself to a life of spiritual affirmation. The first half of the book is about the ideas of a self-made philosopher who believes everything can be explained in terms of clothes. The French Revolution was written in dramatic language bringing the history of the revolution alive in a way that few historians have ever done. The manuscript was first accidentally burned by a domestic servant and Carlyle rewrote the book, which was published when he was 42.
As an essayist Carlyle's career began with two pieces in the Edinburgh Review in 1827. He expressed sympathy for the condition of the working class in the long essay Chartism (1839). In the pamphlet Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question
(1853) he addressed the subject of West Indian slavery in intemperate
and for the modern day reader repugnant terms: Referring to "my obscure
Black friends" he stated that "decidedly you have to be servants to
those that are born wiser than you, that are born lords of
you; servants to the Whites, if they are (as what mortal can doubt they
are?) born wiser than you. That, you may depend on it, my obsure Black
friends, is and was always the Law of the World, for you and for all
men. . . ."
Carlyle's cynicism with English society was evident in the Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850).
As in his historical studies, Carlyle insisted the importance
of the individual, and raised serious questions about democracy, mass
persuasion, and politics. According to Carlyle democracy was an
ideology that rendered any man equal to another – "Judas Iscariot to
Jesus Christ . . . and Bedlam and Gehenna equal to the New Jerusalem."
This stand of his also isolated him from the liberal
and democratic tendencies of his age. As a response to the Second
Reform Act (1867), which greatly increased the voting power of the
urban working class, he wrote the essay 'Shooting Niagara: And After'.
Carlyle regarded the reform bill as a disaster and prophesied an
Henry James saw Carlyle as "the same old sausage, fizzing and sputtering in its own grease." In the 20th-century his reputation waned, partly because his trust in authority and admiration of strong leaders, which were interpreted as foreshadowing of Fascism. According to a story, Gobbels read to Hitler in 1945, as the Allied advanced, Carlyle's work on Frederick the Great. In Nazi propaganda, Hitler was porttayed as the legitimate heir to the King of Prussia. At the end of the Seven Years' War Frederick the Great had found himelf holed up in his ruined palace in Breslau, in Silesia, but he had been saved by a "reversal of alliances."