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A SUNDAY IN CHEYNE ROW
WHILE in London I took a bright Sunday afternoon to visit Chelsea, and walk along Cheyne Row and look upon the house in which Carlyle passed nearly fifty years of his life, and in which he died. Many times I paced to and fro. I had been there eleven years before, but it was on a dark, rainy night, and I had brought away no image of the street or house. The place now had a more humble and neglected look than I expected to see; nothing that suggested it had ever been the abode of the foremost literary man of his time, but rather the home of plain, obscure persons of little means. One would have thought that the long residence there of such a man as Carlyle would have enhanced the value of real estate for many squares around, and drawn men of wealth and genius to that part of the city. The Carlyle house was unoccupied, and, with its closed shutters and little pools of black sooty water standing in the brick area in front of the basement windows, looked dead and deserted indeed. But the house itself, though nearly two hundred years old, showed no signs of decay. It had doubtless witnessed the extinction of many households before that of the Carlyles.
My own visit to that house was in one autumn night in 1871. Carlyle was then seventy-six years old, his wife had been dead five years, his work was done, and his days were pitifully sad. He was out taking his after-dinner walk when we arrived, Mr. Conway and I; most of his walking and riding, it seems, was done after dark, an indication in itself of the haggard and melancholy frame of mind habitual to him. He presently appeared, wrapped in a long gray coat that fell nearly to the floor. His greeting was quiet and grandfatherly, and that of a man burdened with his own sad thoughts. I shall never forget the impression his large, long, soft hand made in mine, nor the look of sorrow and suffering stamped upon the upper part of the face, — sorrow mingled with yearning compassion. The eyes were bleared and filmy with unshed and unshedable tears. In pleasing contrast to his coarse hair and stiff, bristly, iron-gray beard, was the fresh, delicate color that just touched his brown cheeks, like the tinge of poetry that plays over his own rugged page. I noted a certain shyness and delicacy, too, in his manner, which contrasted in the same way with what is alleged of his rudeness and severity. He leaned his head upon his hand, the fingers thrust up through the hair, and, with his elbow resting upon the table, looked across to my companion, who kept the conversation going. This attitude he hardly changed during the two hours we sat there. How serious and concerned he looked, and how surprising that hearty, soliloquizing sort of laugh which now and then came from him as he talked, not so much a laugh provoked by anything humorous in the conversation, as a sort of foil to his thoughts, as one might say, after a severe judgment, "Ah, well-a-day, what matters it!" If that laugh could have been put in his Latter-day Pamphlets, where it would naturally come, or in his later political tracts, these publications would have given much less offense. But there was amusement in his laugh when I told him we had introduced the English sparrow in America. "Introduced!" he repeated, and laughed again. He spoke of the bird as a "comical little wretch," and feared we should regret the "introduction." He repeated an Arab proverb which says Solomon's Temple was built amid the chirping of ten thousand sparrows, and applied it very humorously in the course of his talk to the human sparrows that always stand ready to chirrup and cackle down every great undertaking. He had seen a cat walk slowly along the top of a fence while a row of sparrows seated upon a ridge-board near by all pointed at her and chattered and scolded, and by unanimous vote pronounced her this and that, but the cat went on her way all the same. The verdict of majorities was not always very formidable, however unanimous.
A monument had recently been erected to Scott in Edinburgh, and he had been asked to take part in some attendant ceremony. But he had refused peremptorily. "If the angel Gabriel had summoned me, I would not have gone," he said. It was too soon to erect a monument to Scott. Let them wait a hundred years and see how they feel about it then. He had never met Scott: the nearest he had come to it was once when he was the bearer of a message to him from Goethe; he had rung at his door with some trepidation, and was relieved when told that the great man was out. Not long afterwards he had a glimpse of him while standing in the streets of Edinburgh. He saw a large wagon coming, drawn by several horses, and containing a great many people, and there in the midst of them, full of talk and hilarity like a great boy, sat Scott. Carlyle had recently returned from his annual visit to Scotland, and was full of sad and tender memories of his native land. He was a man in whom every beautiful thing awakened melancholy thoughts. He spoke of the blooming lasses and the crowds of young people he had seen on the streets of some northern city, Aberdeen, I think, as having filled him with sadness; a kind of homesickness of the soul was upon him, and deepened with age, — a solitary and a bereaved man from first to last.
As I walked Cheyne Row that summer Sunday my eye rested again and again upon those three stone steps that led up to the humble door, each hollowed out by the attrition of the human foot, the middle one, where the force of the footfall would be greatest, most deeply worn of all, — worn by hundreds of famous feet, and many, many more not famous. Nearly every notable literary man of the century, both of England and America, had trod those steps. Emerson's foot had left its mark there, if one could have seen it, once in his prime and again in his old age, and it was perhaps of him I thought, and of his new-made grave there under the pines at Concord, that summer afternoon as I mused to and fro, more than of any other visitor to that house. "Here we are shoveled together again," said Carlyle from behind his wife, with a lamp high in his hand, that October night thirty-seven years ago, as Jane opened the door to Emerson. The friendship, the love of those two men for each other, as revealed in their published correspondence, is one of the most beautiful episodes in English literary history. The correspondence was opened and invited by Emerson, but as years went by it is plain that it became more and more a need and a solace to Carlyle. There is something quite pathetic in the way he clung to Emerson and entreated him for a fuller and more frequent evidence of his love. The New Englander, in some ways, appears stinted and narrow beside him; Carlyle was much the more loving and emotional man. He had less self-complacency than Emerson, was much less stoical, and felt himself much more alone in the world. Emerson was genial and benevolent from temperament and habit; Carlyle was wrathful and vituperative, while his heart was really bursting with sympathy and love. The savagest man, probably, in the world in his time, who had anything like his enormous fund of tenderness and magnanimity. He was full of contempt for the mass of mankind, but he was capable of loving particular men with a depth and an intensity that more than makes the account good. And let me say here that the saving feature about Carlyle's contempt, which is such a stumbling-block till one has come to understand it, is its perfect sincerity and inevitableness, and the real humility in which it has its root. He cannot help it; it is genuine, and has a kind of felicity. Then there is no malice or ill-will in it, but pity rather, and pity springs from love. We also know that he is always dominated by the inexorable conscience, and that the standard by which he tries men is the standard of absolute rectitude and worthiness. Contempt without love and humility begets a sneering, mocking, deriding habit of mind, which was far enough from Carlyle's sorrowing denunciations. "The quantity of sorrow he has, does it not mean withal the quantity of sympathy he has, the quantity of faculty and victory he shall yet have? 'Our sorrow is the inverted image of our nobleness.' The depth of our despair measures what capability, and height of claim we have, to hope." (Cromwell.) Emerson heard many responding voices, touched and won many hearts, but Carlyle was probably admired and feared more than he was loved, and love he needed and valued above all else. Hence his pathetic appeals to Emerson, the one man he felt sure of, the one voice that reached him and moved him among his contemporaries. He felt Emerson's serenity and courage, and seemed to cling to, while he ridiculed, that New World hope that shone in him so brightly.
The ship that carries the most sail is most buffeted by the winds and storms. Carlyle carried more sail than Emerson did, and the very winds of the globe he confronted and opposed; the one great movement of the modern world, the democratic movement, the coming forward of the people in their own right, he assailed and ridiculed in a vocabulary the most copious and telling that was probably ever used, and with a concern and a seriousness most impressive.
Much as we love and revere Emerson, and immeasurable as his service has been, especially to the younger and more penetrating minds, I think it will not do at all to say, as one of our critics (Mr. Stedman) has lately said, that Emerson is as "far above Carlyle as the affairs of the soul and universe are above those of the contemporary or even the historic World." Above him he certainly was, in a thinner, colder air, but not in any sense that implies greater power or a farther range. His sympathies with the concrete world and his gripe upon it were far less than Carlyle's. He bore no such burden, he fought no such battle, as the latter did. His mass, his velocity, his penetrating power, are far less. A tranquil, high-sailing, fair-weather cloud is Emerson, and a massive, heavy-laden storm-cloud is Carlyle. Carlyle was never placidly sounding the azure depths like Emerson, but always pouring and rolling earthward, with wind, thunder, rain, and hail. He reaches up to the Emersonian altitudes, but seldom disports himself there; never loses himself, as Emerson sometimes does; the absorption takes place in the other direction; he descends to actual affairs and events with fierce precipitation. Carlyle's own verdict, written in his journal on Emerson's second visit to him in 1848, was much to the same effect, and, allowing for the Carlylean exaggeration, was true. He wrote that Emerson differed as much from himself "as a gymnosophist sitting idle on a flowery bank may do from a wearied worker and wrestler passing that way with many of his bones broken."
All men would choose Emerson's fate, Emerson's history; how rare, how serene, how inspiring, how beautiful, how fortunate! But as between these two friends, our verdict must be that Carlyle did the more unique and difficult, the more heroic, piece of work. Whether the more valuable and important or not, it is perhaps too early in the day to say, but certainly the more difficult and masterful. As an artist, using the term in the largest sense, as the master-worker in, and shaper of, the Concrete, he is immeasurably Emerson's superior. Emerson's two words were truth and beauty, which lie, as it were, in the same plane, and the passage from one to the other is easy; it is smooth sailing. Carlyle's two words were truth and duty, which lie in quite different planes, and the passage between which is steep and rough. Hence the pain, the struggle, the picturesque power. Try to shape the actual world of politics and human affairs according to the ideal truth, and see if you keep your serenity. There is a Niagara gulf between them that must be bridged. But what a gripe this man had upon both shores, the real and the ideal! The quality of action, of tangible performance, that lies in his works, is unique. "He has not so much written as spoken," and he has not so much spoken as he has actually wrought. He experienced, in each of his books, the pain and the antagonism of the man of action. His mental mood and attitude are the same; as is also his impatience of abstractions, of theories, of subtleties, of mere words. Indeed, Carlyle was essentially a man of action, as he himself seemed to think, driven by fate into literature. He is as real and as earnest as Luther or Cromwell, and his faults are the same in kind. Not the mere saying of a thing satisfies him as it does Emerson; you must do it; bring order out of chaos, make the dead alive, make the past present, in some way make your fine sayings point to, or result in, fact. He says the Perennial lies always in the Concrete. Subtlety of intellect, which conducts you, "not to new clearness, but to ever-new abstruseness, wheel within wheel, depth under depth," has no charms for him. "My erudite friend, the astonishing intellect that occupies itself in splitting hairs, and not in twisting some kind of cordage and effectual draught-tackle to take the road with, is not to me the most astonishing of intellects."
Emerson split no hairs, but he twisted very little cordage for the rough draught-horses of this world. He tells us to hitch our wagon to a star; and the star is without doubt a good steed, when once fairly caught and harnessed, but it takes an astronomer to catch it. The value of such counsel is not very tangible unless it awakes us to the fact that every power of both heaven and earth is friendly to a noble and courageous activity.
Carlyle was impatient of Emerson's fine-spun sentences and transcendental sleight-of-hand. Indeed, from a literary point of view, one of the most interesting phases of the published correspondence between these two notable men is the value which each unwittingly set upon his own methods and work. Each would have the other like himself.
Emerson wants Emersonian epigrams from Carlyle, and Carlyle wants Carlylean thunder from Emerson. Each was unconsciously his own ideal. The thing which a man's nature calls him to do, — what else so well worth doing? Certainly nothing else to him, — but to another? How surely each one of us would make our fellow over in our own image! Carlyle wants Emerson more practical, more concrete, more like himself in short. "The vile Pythons of this Mud-world do verily require to have sun-arrows shot into them, and red-hot pokers stuck through them, according to occasion;" do this as I am doing it, or trying to do it, and I shall like you better. It is well to know that nature will make good compost of the carcass of an Oliver Cromwell, and produce a cart-load of turnips from the same; but it is better to appreciate and make the most of the live Oliver himself. "A faculty is in you for a sort of speech which is itself action, an artistic sort. You tell us with piercing emphasis that man's soul is great; show us a great soul of a man, in some work symbolic of such; this is the seal of such a message, and you will feel by and by that you are called to do this. I long to see some concrete Thing, some Event, Man's Hope, American Forest, or piece of Creation, which this Emerson loves and wonders at, well Emersonized, depicted by Emerson, filled with the life of Emerson and cast forth from him, then to live by itself." Again: "I will have all things condense themselves, take shape and body, if they are to have my sympathy; I have a body myself; in the brown leaf, sport of the Autumn winds, I find what mocks all prophesyings, even Hebrew ones." "Alas, it is so easy to screw one's self up into high and even higher altitudes of Transcendentalism, and see nothing under one but the everlasting snows of Himmalayah, the Earth shrinking to a Planet, and the indigo firmament sowing itself with daylight stars; easy for you, for me; but whither does it lead? I dread always, to inanity and mere injuring of the lungs!" — with more of the same sort.
On the other hand, Emerson evidently tires of Carlyle's long-winded heroes. He would have him give us the gist of the matter in a few sentences. Cremate your heroes, he seems to say; get all this gas and water out of them, and give us the handful of lime and iron of which they are composed. He hungered for the "central monosyllables." He praises Cromwell and Frederick, yet says to his friend, "that book will not come which I most wish to read, namely, the culled results, the quintessence of private conviction, a liber veritatis, a few sentences, hints of the final moral you drew from so much penetrating inquest into past and present men."
This is highly characteristic of Emerson; his bid for the quintessence of things. He was always impatient of creative imaginative works; would sublunate or evaporate them in a hurry. Give him the pith of the matter, the net result in the most pungent words. It must still be picture and parable, but in a sort of disembodied or potential state. He fed on the marrow of Shakespeare's sentences, and apparently cared little for his marvelous characterizations. One is reminded-of the child's riddle: Under the hill there is a mill, in the mill there is a chest, in the chest there is a till, in the till there is a phial, in the phial there is a drop I would not give for all the world. This drop Emerson would have. Keep or omit the chest and the mill and all that circumlocution, and give him the precious essence. But the artistic or creative mind does not want things thus abridged, — does not want the universe reduced to an epigram. Carlyle wants an actual flesh-and-blood hero, and, what is more, wants him immersed head and ears in the actual affairs of this world.
Those who seek to explain Carlyle on the ground of his humble origin shoot wide of the mark. "Merely a peasant with a glorified intellect," says a certain irate female masquerading as the "Day of Judgment."
It seems to me Carlyle was as little of a peasant as any man of his time, — a man without one peasant trait or proclivity, a regal and dominating man, "looking," as he said of one of his own books, "king and beggar in the face with an indifference of brotherhood and an indifference of contempt." The two marks of the peasant are stolidity and abjectness; he is dull and heavy, and he dare not say his soul is his own. No man ever so hustled and jostled titled dignitaries, and made them toe the mark, as did Carlyle. It was not merely that his intellect was towering; it was also his character, his will, his standard of manhood, that was towering. He bowed to the hero, to valor and personal worth, never to titles or conventions. The virtues and qualities of his yeoman ancestry were in him without doubt; his power of application, the spirit of toil that possessed him, his frugal, self-denying habits, came from his family and race, but these are not peasant traits, but heroic traits. A certain coarseness of fibre he had also, together with great delicacy and sensibility, but these again he shares with all strong first-class men. You cannot get such histories as "Cromwell" and "Frederick" out of polished littÚrateurs; you must have a man of the same heroic fibre, of the same inexpugnableness of mind and purpose. Not even was Emerson adequate to such a task; he was fine enough and high enough, but he was not coarse enough and broad enough. The scholarly part of Carlyle's work is nearly always thrown in the shade by the manly part, the original raciness and personal intensity of the writer. He is not in the least veiled or hidden by his literary vestments. He is rather hampered by them, and his sturdy Annandale character often breaks through them in the most surprising manner. His contemporaries soon discovered that if here was a great writer, here was also a great man, come not merely to paint their picture, but to judge them, to weigh them in the balance. He is eminently an artist, and yet it is not the artistic or literary impulse that lies at the bottom of his works, but a moral, human, emotional impulse and attraction, — the impulse of justice, of veracity, or of sympathy and love.
What love of work well done, what love of genuine leadership, of devotion to duty, of mastery of affairs, in fact, what love of man pure and simple, lies at the bottom of "Frederick," lies at the bottom of "Cromwell"! Here is not the disinterestedness of Shakespeare, here is not the Hellenic flexibility of mind and scientific impartiality Mr. Arnold demands: here is espousal, here is vindication, here is the moral bias of the nineteenth century. But here also is reality, here is the creative touch, here are men and things made alive again, palpable to the understanding and enticing to the imagination. Of all histories that have fallen into my hands, "Frederick" is the most vital and real. If the current novels were half so entertaining, I fear I should read little else. The portrait-painting is like that of Rembrandt; the eye for battles and battle-fields is like that of Napoleon, or Frederick himself; the sifting of events, and the separating of the false from the true, is that of the most patient and laborious science; the descriptive passages are equaled by those of no other man; while the work as a whole, as Emerson says, "is a Judgment Day, for its moral verdict, on the men and' nations and manners of modern times." It is to be read for its honest history; it is to be read for its inexhaustible wit and humor; it is to be read for its poetic fire, for its felicities of style, for its burden of human sympathy and effort, its heroic attractions and stimulating moral judgments. All Carlyle's histories have the quick, penetrating glance, that stroke of the eye, as the French say, that lays the matter open to the heart. He did not write in the old way of a topographical survey of the surface: his "French Revolution" is more like a transverse section; more like a geologist's map than like a geographer's; the depths are laid open; the abyss yawns; — the cosmic forces and fires stalk forth and become visible and real. It was this power to detach and dislocate things and project them against the light of a fierce and lurid imagination that makes his pages unique and matchless, of their kind, in literature. He may be deficient in the historical sense, the sense of development, and of compensation in history; but in vividness of apprehension of men and events, and power of portraiture, he is undoubtedly without a rival. "Those devouring eyes and that portraying hand," Emerson says.
Those who contract their view of Carlyle till they see only his faults do a very unwise thing. Nearly all his great traits have their shadows. His power of characterization sometimes breaks away into caricature; his command of the picturesque leads him into the grotesque; his eloquent denunciation at times becomes vituperation; his marvelous power to name things degenerates into outrageous nicknaming; his streaming humor, which, as Emerson said, floats every object he looks upon, is not free from streaks of the most crabbed, hide-bound ill-humor. Nearly every page has a fringe of these things, and sometimes a pretty broad one, but they are by no means the main matter, and often lend an additional interest. The great personages, the great events, are never caricatured, though painted with a bold, free hand, but there is in the border of the picture all manner of impish and grotesque strokes. In "Frederick" there is a whole series of secondary men and incidents that are touched off with the hand of a master caricaturist. Some peculiarity of feature or manner is seized upon, magnified, and made prominent on all occasions. We are never suffered to forget George the Second's fish eyes and gartered leg; nor the lean May-pole mistress of George the First; nor the Czarina's big fat cheek; nor poor Bruhl, "vainest of human clothes-horses," with his twelve tailors and his three hundred and sixty-five suits of clothes; nor Augustus, "the dilapidated strong," with his three hundred and fifty-four bastards. Nor can any reader of that work ever forget "Jenkins' Ear," — the poor fraction of an ear of an English sailor snipped off by the Spaniards, and here made to stand for a whole series of historical events. Indeed, this severed ear looms up till it becomes like a sign in the zodiac of those times. His portrait of the French army, which he calls the Dauphiness, is unforgetable, and is in the best style of his historical caricature. It makes its exit over the Rhine before Duke Ferdinand, "much in rags, much in disorder, in terror, and here and there almost in despair, winging their way like clouds of draggled poultry caught by a mastiff in the corn. Across Weser, across Ems, finally across the Rhine itself, every feather of them, — their long-drawn cackle, of a shrieky type, filling all nature in those months." A good sample of the grotesque in Carlyle, pushed to the last limit, and perhaps a little beyond, is in this picture of the Czarina of Russia, stirred up to declare war against Frederick by his Austrian enemies: "Bombarded with cunningly-devised fabrications, every wind freighted for her with phantasmal rumors, no ray of direct daylight visiting the poor Sovereign Woman; who is lazy, not malignant, if she could avoid it; mainly a mass of esurient oil, with alkali on the back of alkali poured in, at this rate for ten years past, till, by pouring and by stirring, they get her to the state of soap and froth."
Carlyle had a narrow escape from being the most formidable blackguard the world had ever seen; was, indeed, in certain moods, a kind of divine blackguard, — a purged and pious Rabelais, who could bespatter the devil with more telling epithets than any other man who ever lived. What a tongue, what a vocabulary! He fairly oxidizes, burns up, the object of his opprobrium, in the stream of caustic epithets he turns upon it. He had a low opinion of the contemporaries of Frederick and Voltaire: they were "mere ephemera; contemporary eaters, scramblers for provender, talkers of acceptable hearsay; and related merely to the butteries and wiggeries of their time, and not related to the Perennialities at all, as these two were." He did not have to go very far from home for some of the lineaments of Voltaire's portrait: "He had, if no big gloomy devil in him among the bright angels that were there, a multitude of ravening, tumultuary imps, or little devils, very ill-chained, and was lodged, he and his restless little devils, in a skin far too thin for him and them!"
Of Frederick's cynicism he says there was "always a kind of vinegar cleanness in it, except in theory." Equally original and felicitous is the "albuminous simplicity" which he ascribes to the Welfs. Newspaper men have never forgiven him for calling them the "gazetteer owls of Minerva;" and our Catholic brethren can hardly relish his reference to the "consolations" the nuns deal out to the sick as "poisoned gingerbread." In "Frederick" one comes upon such phrases as "milk-faced," "bead-roll histories," "heavy pipe-clay natures," a "stiff-jointed, algebraic kind of piety," etc.
Those who persist in trying Carlyle as a philosopher and man of ideas miss his purport. He had no philosophy, and laid claim to none, except what he got from the German metaphysicians, — views which crop out here and there in "Sartor." He was a preacher of righteousness to his generation, and a rebuker of its shams and irreverences, and as such he cut deep, cut to the bone, and to the marrow of the bone. That piercing, agonized, prophetic, yet withal melodious and winsome voice, how it rises through and above the multitudinous hum and clatter of contemporary voices in England, and alone falls upon the ear as from out the primal depths of moral conviction and power! He is the last man in the world to be reduced to a system or tried by logical tests. You might as well try to bind the sea with chains. His appeal is to the intuitions, the imagination, the moral sense. His power of mental abstraction was not great; he could not deal in abstract ideas. When he attempted to state his philosophy, as in the fragment called "Spiritual Optics," which Froude gives, he is far from satisfactory. His mathematical proficiency seemed to avail him but little in the region of pure ideality. His mind is precipitated at once upon the concrete, upon actual persons and events. This makes him the artist he is, as distinguished from the mystic and philosopher, and is perhaps the basis of Emerson's remark, that there is "more character than intellect in every sentence;" that is, more motive, more will power, more stress of conscience, more that appeals to one as a living personal identity, wrestling with facts and events, than there is that appeals to him as a contemplative philosopher.
Carlyle owed everything to his power of will and to his unflinching adherence to principle. He was in no sense a lucky man, had no good fortune, was borne by no current, was favored and helped by no circumstance whatever. His life from the first was a steady pull against both wind and tide. He confronted all the cherished thoughts, beliefs, tendencies, of his time; he spurned and insulted his age and country. No man ever before poured out such withering scorn upon his contemporaries. Many of his political tracts are as blasting as the Satires of Juvenal. The opinions and practices of his times, in politics, religion, and literature, were as a stubbly, brambly field, to which he would fain apply the match and clean the ground for a nobler crop. He would purge and fertilize the soil by fire. His attitude was one of warning and rebuking. He was refused every public place he ever aspired to, — every college and editorial chair. Every man's hand was against him. He was hated by the Whigs and feared by the Tories. He was poor, proud, uncompromising, sarcastic; he was morose, dyspeptic, despondent, compassed about by dragons and all manner of evil menacing forms; in fact, the odds were fearfully against him, and yet he succeeded, and succeeded on his own terms. He fairly conquered the world; yes, and the flesh and the devil. But it was one incessant, heroic struggle and wrestle from the first. All through his youth and his early manhood he was nerving himself for the conflict. Whenever he took counsel with himself, it was to give his courage a new fillip. In his letters to his people, in his private journal, in all his meditations, he never loses the opportunity to take a new hitch upon his resolution, to screw his purpose up tighter. Not a moment's relaxation, but ceaseless vigilance and "desperate hope." In 1830 he says in his journal: "Oh, I care not for poverty, little even for disgrace, nothing at all for want of renown. But the horrible feeling is when I cease my own struggle, lose the consciousness of my own strength, and become positively quite worldly and wicked." A year later he wrote: "To it, thou Taugenichts! Gird thyself! stir! struggle! forward! forward! Thou art bundled up here and tied as in a sack. On, then, as in a sack race; running, not raging!" Carlyle made no terms with himself nor with others. He would not agree to keep the peace; he would be the voice of absolute conscience, of absolute justice, come what come might. "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion," he once said to John Sterling. The stern, uncompromising front which he first turned to the world he never relaxed for a moment. He had his way with mankind at all times; or rather conscience had its way with him at all times in his relations with mankind. He made no selfish demands, but ideal demands. Jeffries, seeing his attitude and his earnestness in it, despaired of him; he looked upon him as a man butting his head against a stone wall; he never dreamed that the wall would give way before the head did. It was not mere obstinacy; it was not the pride of opinion: it was the thunders of conscience, the awful voice of Sinai, within him; he dared not do otherwise.
A selfish or self-seeking man Carlyle in no sense was, though it has so often been charged upon him. He was the victim of his own genius; and he made others its victims, not of his selfishness. This genius, no doubt, came nearer the demon of Socrates than that of any modern man. He is under its lash and tyranny from first to last. But the watchword of his life was "Entsagen," renunciation, self-denial, which he learned from Goethe. His demon did not possess him lightly, but dominated and drove him.
One would as soon accuse St. Simeon Stylites, thirty years at the top of his penitential pillar, of selfishness. Seeking his own ends, following his own demon, St. Simeon certainly was; but seeking his ease or pleasure, or animated by any unworthy, ignoble purpose, he certainly was not. No more was Carlyle, each one of whose books was a sort of pillar of penitence or martyrdom atop of which he wrought and suffered, shut away from the world, renouncing its pleasures and prizes, wrapped in deepest gloom and misery, and wrestling with all manner of real and imaginary demons and hindrances. During his last great work, — the thirteen years spent in his study at the top of his house, writing the history of Frederick, — this isolation, this incessant toil and penitential gloom, were such as only religious devotees have voluntarily imposed upon themselves.
If Carlyle was "gey ill to live with," as his mother said, it was not because he was selfish. He was a man, to borrow one of Emerson's early phrases, "inflamed to a fury of personality." He must of necessity assert himself; he is shot with great velocity; he is keyed to an extraordinary pitch; and it was this, this raging fever of individuality, if any namable trait or quality, rather than anything lower in the scale, that often made him an uncomfortable companion and neighbor.
And it may be said here that his wife had the same complaint, and had it bad, the feminine form of it, and without the vent and assuagement of it that her husband found in literature. Little wonder that between two such persons, living childless together for forty years, each assiduously cultivating their sensibilities and idiosyncrasies, there should have been more or less friction. Both sarcastic, quick-witted, plain-spoken, sleepless, addicted to morphia and blue-pills, nerves all on the outside; the wife without any occupation adequate to her genius, the husband toiling like Hercules at his tasks and groaning much louder; both flouting at happiness; both magnifying the petty ills of life into harrowing tragedies; both gifted with "preternatural intensity of sensation;" Mrs. C. nearly killed by the sting of a wasp; Mr. C. driven nearly distracted by the crowing of a cock or the baying of a dog; the wife hot-tempered, the husband atrabilarious; one caustic, the other arrogant; marrying from admiration rather than from love — could one reasonably predict, beforehand, a very high state of domestic felicity for such a couple? and would it be just to lay the blame all on the husband, as has generally been done in this case? Man arid wife were too much alike; the marriage was in no sense a union of opposites; at no point did the two sufficiently offset and complement each other; hence, though deeply devoted, they never seemed to find the repose and the soothing acquiescence in the society of one another that marriage should bring. They both had the great virtues, — nobleness, generosity, courage, deep kindliness, etc., — but neither of them had the small virtues. Both gave way under small annoyances, paltry cares, petty interruptions, — bugs, cocks, donkeys, and street noises. To great emergencies, to great occasions, they could oppose great qualities; there can be no doubt of that; but the ordinary every-day hindrances and petty burdens of life fretted their spirits into tatters. Mrs. C. used frequently to return from her trips to the country with her "mind all churned into froth," — no butter of sweet thought or sweet content at all. Yet Carlyle could say of her, "Not a bad little dame at all. She and I did aye very weel together; and 'tweel, it was not every one that could have done with her," which was doubtless the exact truth. Froude also speaks from personal knowledge when he says : "His was the soft heart and hers the stern one."
We are now close on to the cardinal fact of Carlyle's life and teachings, namely, the urgency of his quest for heroes and heroic qualities. This is the master key to him; the main stress of his preaching and writing is here. He is the medium and exemplar of the value of personal force and prowess, and he projected this thought into current literature and politics, with the emphasis of gunpowder and torpedoes. He had a vehement and overweening conceit in man. A sort of anthropomorphic greed and hunger possessed him always, an insatiable craving for strong, picturesque characters, and for contact and conflict with them. This was his ruling passion (and it amounted to a passion) all his days. He fed his soul on heroes and heroic qualities, and all his literary exploits were a search for these things. Where he found them not, where he did not come upon some trace of them in books, in society, in politics, he saw only barrenness and futility. He was an idealist who was inhospitable to ideas; he must have a man, the flavor and stimulus of ample concrete personalities. "In the country," he said, writing to his brother in 1821, "I am like an alien, a stranger and pilgrim from a far-distant land." His faculties were "up in mutiny, and slaying one another for lack of fair enemies." He must to the city, to Edinburgh, and finally to London, where, thirteen years later, we find his craving as acute as ever. "Oct. 1st. This morning think of the old primitive Edinburgh scheme of engineership; almost meditate for a moment resuming it yet! It were a method of gaining bread, of getting into contact with men, my two grand wants and prayers."
Nothing but man, but heroes, touched him, moved him, satisfied him. He stands for heroes and hero-worship, and for that alone. Bring him the most plausible theory, the most magnanimous idea in the world, and he is cold, indifferent, or openly insulting; but bring him a brave, strong man, or the reminiscence of any noble personal trait, — sacrifice, obedience, reverence, — and every faculty within him stirs and responds. Dreamers and enthusiasts, with their schemes for the millennium, rushed to him for aid and comfort, and usually had the door slammed in their faces. They forgot it was a man he had advertised for, and not an idea. Indeed, if you had the blow-fly of any popular ism or reform buzzing in your bonnet, No. 5 Cheyne Row was the house above all others to be avoided; little chance of inoculating such a mind as Carlyle's with your notions, — of blowing a toiling and sweating hero at his work. But welcome to any man with real work to do and the courage to do it; welcome to any man who stood for any real, tangible thing in his own right. "In God's name, what art thou? Not Nothing, sayest thou! Then, How much and what? This is the thing I would know, and even must soon know, such a pass am I come to!" (" Past and Present.")
Caroline Fox, in her Memoirs, tells how, in 1842, Carlyle's sympathies were enlisted in behalf of a Cornish miner who had kept his place in the bottom of a shaft, above a blast the fuse of which had been prematurely lighted, and allowed his comrades to be hauled up when only one could escape at a time. He inquired out the hero, who, as by miracle, had survived the explosion, and set on foot an enterprise to raise funds for the bettering of his condition. In a letter to Sterling, he said there was help and profit in knowing that there was such a true and brave workman living, and working with him on the earth at that time. "Tell all the people," he said, "that a man of this kind ought to be hatched, — that it were shameful to eat him as a breakfast egg!"
All Carlyle's sins of omission and commission grew out of this terrible predilection for the individual hero: this bent or inclination determined the whole watershed, so to speak, of his mind; every rill and torrent swept swiftly and noisily in this one direction. It is the tragedy in Burns's life that attracts him; the morose heroism in Johnson's, the copious manliness in Scott's, the lordly and regal quality in Goethe's. Emerson praised Plato to him; but the endless dialectical hair-splitting of the Greek philosopher, — "how does all this concern me at all?" he said. But when he discovered that Plato hated the Athenian democracy most cordially, and poured out his scorn upon it, he thought much better of him. History swiftly resolves itself into biography to him; the tide in the affairs of men ebbed and flowed in obedience to the few potent wills. We do not find him exploiting or elucidating ideas and principles, but moral qualities, — always on the scent, on the search of the heroic.
He raises aloft the standard of the individual will, the supremacy of man over events. He sees the reign of law; none see it clearer. "Eternal Law is silently present everywhere and everywhen. By Law the Planets gyrate in their orbits; by some approach to Law the street-cabs ply in their thoroughfares." But law is still personal will with him, the will of God. He can see nothing but individuality, but conscious will and force, in the universe. He believed in a personal God. He had an inward ground of assurance of it in his own intense personality and vivid apprehension of personal force and genius. He seems to have believed in a personal devil. At least he abuses "Auld Nickie-Ben" as one would hardly think of abusing an abstraction. However impractical we may regard Carlyle, he was entirely occupied with practical questions; an idealist turned loose, in the actual affairs of this world, and intent only on bettering them. That which so drew reformers and all ardent, ideal natures to him was not the character of his conviction, but the torrid impetuosity of his belief. He had the earnestness of fanaticism, the earnestness of rebellion; the earnestness of the Long Parliament and the National Convention, — the only two parliaments he praises. He did not merely see the truth and placidly state it, standing aloof and apart from it; but, as soon as his intellect had conceived a thing as true, every current of his being set swiftly in that direction; it was an outlet at once for his whole pent-up energies, and there was a flood and sometimes an inundation of Carlylean wrath and power. Coming from Goethe, with his marvelous insight and cool, uncommitted moral nature, to the great Scotchman, is like coming from dress-parade to a battle, from Melancthon to Luther. It would be far from the truth to say that Goethe was not in earnest: he was all eyes, all vision; he saw everything, but saw it for his own ends and behoof, for contemplation and enjoyment. In Carlyle the vision is productive of pain and suffering, because his moral nature sympathizes so instantly and thoroughly with his intellectual; it is a call to battle, and every faculty is enlisted. It was this that made Carlyle akin to the reformers and the fanatics, and led them to expect more of him than they got. The artist element in him, and his vital hold upon the central truths of character and personal force, saved him from any such fate as overtook his friend Irving.
Out of Carlyle's fierce and rampant individualism come his grasp of character and his power of human portraiture. It is, perhaps, not too much to say, that in all literature there is not another such a master portrait-painter, such a limner and interpreter of historical figures and physiognomies. That power of the old artists to paint or to carve a man, to body him forth, almost re-create him, so rare in the moderns, Carlyle had in a preŰminent degree. As an artist it is his distinguishing gift, and puts him on a par with Rembrandt, Angelo, Reynolds, and with the antique masters of sculpture. He could put his finger upon the weak point and upon the strong point of a man as unerringly as fate. He knew a man as a jockey knows a horse. His pictures of Johnson, of Boswell, of Voltaire, of Mirabeau, what masterpieces! His portrait of Coleridge will doubtless survive all others, inadequate as it is in many ways; one fears, also, that poor Lamb has been stamped to last. None of Carlyle's characterizations have excited more ill-feeling than this same one of Lamb. But it was plain from the outset that Carlyle could not like such a verbal acrobat as Lamb. He doubtless had him or his kind in view when he wrote this passage in "Past and Present:" "His poor fraction of sense has to be perked into some epigrammatic shape, that it may prick into me, — perhaps (this is the commonest) to be topsy-turvied, left standing on its head, that I may remember it the better! Such grinning insanity is very sad to the soul of man. Human faces should not grin on one like masks; they should look on like faces! I love honest laughter as I do sunlight, but not dishonest; most kinds of dancing, too, but the St. Vitus kind, not at all!"
If Carlyle had taken to the brush instead of to the pen, he would probably have left a gallery of portraits such as this century has not seen. In his letters, journals, reminiscences, etc., for him to mention a man is to describe his face, and with what graphic pen-and-ink sketches they abound! Let me extract a few of them. Here is Rousseau's face, from "Heroes and Hero Worship:" "A high but narrow-contracted intensity in it; bony brows; deep, straight-set eyes, in which there is something bewildered - looking, — bewildered, peering with lynx-eagerness; a face full of misery, even ignoble misery, and also of an antagonism against that; something mean, plebeian, there, redeemed only by intensity; the face of what is called a fanatic, — a sadly contracted hero!" Here a glimpse of Danton: "Through whose black brows and rude, flattened face there looks a waste energy as of Hercules." Camille Desmoulins: "With the face of dingy blackguardism, wondrously irradiated with genius, as if a naphtha lamp burned in it." Through Mirabeau's "shaggy beetle-brows, and rough-hewn, seamed, carbuncled face there look natural ugliness, smallpox, incontinence, bankruptcy, and burning fire of genius; like comet fire, glaring fuliginous through murkiest confusions."
On first meeting with John Stuart Mill he describes him to his wife as "a slender, rather tall, and elegant youth, with small, clear, Roman-nosed face, two small, earnestly smiling eyes; modest, remarkably gifted with precision of utterance; enthusiastic, yet lucid, calm; not a great, yet distinctly a gifted and amiable youth."
A London editor, whom he met about the same time, he describes as "a tall, loose, lank-haired, wrinkly, wintry, vehement-looking flail of a man." He goes into the House of Commons on one of his early visits to London: "Althorp spoke, a thick, large, broad-whiskered, farmer-looking man; Hume also, a powdered, clean, burly fellow; and Wetherell, a beetle-browed, sagacious, quizzical old gentleman; then Davies, a Roman-nosed dandy," etc. He must touch off the portrait of every man he sees. De Quincey "is one of the smallest men you ever in your life beheld; but with a most gentle and sensible face, only that the teeth are destroyed by opium, and the little bit of an under lip projects like a shelf." Leigh Hunt: "Dark complexion (a trace of the African, I believe); copious, clean, strong black hair, beautifully shaped head, fine, beaming, serious hazel eyes; seriousness and intellect the main expression of the face (to our surprise at first)."
Here is his sketch of Tennyson: "A fine, large-featured, dim-eyed, bronze-colored, shaggy-headed man is Alfred; dusty, smoky, free and easy, who swings outwardly and inwardly with great composure in an inarticulate element of tranquil chaos and tobacco smoke. Great now and then when he does emerge, — a most restful, brotherly, solid-hearted man."
Here we have Dickens in 1840: "Clear blue intelligent eyes; eyebrows that he arches amazingly; large, protrusive, rather loose mouth; a face of most extreme mobility, which he shuttles about — eyebrows, eyes, mouth, and all — in a very singular manner while speaking. Surmount this with a loose coil of common-colored hair, and set it on a small compact figure, very small, and dressed a la D'Orsay rather than well, — this is Pickwick."
Here is a glimpse of Grote, the historian of Greece: "A man with straight upper lip, large chin, and open mouth (spout mouth); for the rest, a tall man, with dull, thoughtful brow and lank, disheveled hair, greatly the look of a prosperous Dissenting minister."
In telling Emerson whom he shall see in London, he says: "Southey's complexion is still healthy mahogany brown, with a fleece of white hair, and eyes that seem running at full gallop; old Rogers, with his pale head, white, bare, and cold as snow, with those large blue eyes, cruel, sorrowful, and that sardonic shelf chin."
In another letter he draws this portrait of Webster: "As a logic-fencer, advocate, or parliamentary Hercules, one would incline to back him, at first sight, against all the extant world. The tanned complexion; that amorphous crag-like face; the dull black eyes under their precipice of brows, like dull anthracite furnaces, needing only to be blown; the mastiff-mouth accurately closed: I have not traced as much of silent Berserker rage, that I remember of, in any other man." In writing his histories Carlyle valued, above almost anything else, a good portrait of his hero, and searched far and wide for such. He roamed through endless picture-galleries in Germany searching for a genuine portrait of Frederick the Great, and at last, chiefly by good luck, hit upon the thing he was in quest of. "If one would buy an indisputably authentic old shoe of William Wallace for hundreds of pounds, and run to look at it from all ends of Scotland, what would one give for an authentic visible shadow of his face, could such, by art natural or art magic, now be had!" "Often I have found a Portrait superior in real instruction to half a dozen written 'Biographies,' as Biographies are written; or, rather, let me say, I have found that the Portrait was a small lighted candle by which the Biographies could for the first time be read, and some human interpretation be made of them."
Carlyle stands at all times, at all places, for the hero, for power of will, authority of character, adequacy, and obligation of personal force. He offsets completely, and with the emphasis of a clap of thunder, the modern leveling impersonal tendencies, the "manifest destinies," the blind mass movements, the merging of the one in the many, the rule of majorities, the no-government, no-leadership, laissez-faire principle. Unless there was evidence of a potent, supreme, human will guiding affairs, he had no faith in the issue; unless the hero was in the saddle, and the dumb blind forces well bitted and curbed beneath him, he took no interest in the venture. The cause of the North, in the War of the Rebellion, failed to enlist him or touch him. It was a people's war; the hand of the strong man was not conspicuous; it was a conflict of ideas, rather than of personalities; there was no central and dominating figure around which events revolved. He missed his Cromwell, his Frederick. So far as his interest was aroused at all, it was with the South, because he had heard of the Southern slave-driver; he knew Cuffee had a master, and the crack of the whip was sweeter music to him than the crack of antislavery rifles, behind which he recognized only a vague, misdirected philanthropy.
Carlyle did not see things in their relation, or as a philosopher; he saw them detached, and hence more or less in conflict and opposition. We accuse him of wrong-headedness, but it is rather inflexibleness of mind and temper. He is not a brook that flows, but a torrent that plunges and plows. He tried poetry, he tried novel-writing in his younger days, but he had not the flexibility of spirit to succeed in these things; his moral vehemence, his fury of conviction, were too great.
Great is the power of reaction in the human body; great is the power of reaction and recoil in all organic nature. But apparently there was no power of reaction in Carlyle's mind; he never reacts from his own extreme views; never looks for the compensations, never seeks to place himself at the point of equilibrium, or adjusts his view to other related facts. He saw the value of the hero, the able man, and he precipitated himself upon this fact with such violence, so detached it and magnified it, that it fits with no modern system of things. He was apparently entirely honest in his conviction that modern governments and social organizations were rushing swiftly to chaos and ruin, because the hero, the natural leader, was not at the head of affairs, — overlooking entirely the many checks and compensations, and ignoring the fact that, under a popular government especially, nations are neither made nor unmade by the wisdom or folly of their rulers, but by the character for wisdom and virtue of the mass of their citizens. "Where the great mass of men is tolerably right," he himself says, "all is right; where they are not right, all is wrong." What difference can it make to America, for instance, to the real growth and prosperity of the nation, whether the ablest man goes to Congress or fills the Presidency or the second or third ablest? The most that we can expect, in ordinary times at least, is that the machinery of universal suffrage will yield us a fair sample of the leading public man, — a man who fairly represents the average ability and average honesty of the better class of the citizens. In extraordinary times, in times of national peril, when there is a real strain upon the state, and the instinct of self-preservation comes into play, then fate itself brings forward the ablest men. The great crisis makes or discovers the great man, — discovers Cromwell, Frederick, Washington, Lincoln. Carlyle leaves out of his count entirely the competitive principle that operates everywhere in nature, — in your field and garden as well as in political states and amid teeming populations, — natural selection, the survival of the fittest. Under artificial conditions the operation of this law is more or less checked; but amid the struggles and parturition throes of a people, artificial conditions disappear, and we touch real ground at last. What a sorting and sifting process went on in our army during the secession war, till the real captains, the real leaders, were found; not Fredericks, or Wellingtons, perhaps, but the best the land afforded!
The object of popular government is no more to find and elevate the hero, the man of special and exceptional endowment, into power, than the object of agriculture is to take the prizes at the agricultural fairs. It is one of the things to be hoped for and aspired to, but not one of the indispensables. The success of free government is attained when it has made the people independent of special leaders, and secured the free and full expression of the popular will and conscience. Any view of American politics, based upon the failure of the suffrage always, or even generally, to lift into power the ablest men, is partial and unscientific. We can stand, and have stood, any amount of mediocrity in our appointed rulers; and perhaps in the ordinary course of events mediocrity is the safest and best. We could no longer surrender ourselves to great leaders, if we wanted to. Indeed, there is no longer a call for great leaders; with the appearance of the people upon the scene, the hero must await his orders. How often in this country have the people checked and corrected the folly and wrong-headedness of their rulers! It is probably true, as Carlyle says, that "the smallest item of human Slavery is the oppression of man by his Mock-Superiors;" but shall we accept the other side of the proposition, that the grand problem is to find government by our Real Superiors? The grand problem is rather to be superior to all government, and to possess a nationality that finally rests upon principles quite beyond the fluctuations of ordinary politics. A people possessed of the gift of Empire, like the English stock, both in Europe and in America, are in our day beholden very little to their chosen rulers. Otherwise the English nation would have been extinct long ago.
"Human virtue," Carlyle wrote in 1850, "if we went down to the roots of it, is not so rare. The materials of human virtue are everywhere abundant as the light of the sun." This may well offset his more pessimistic statement, that "there are fools, cowards, knaves, and gluttonous traitors, true only to their own appetite, in immense majority in every rank of life; and there is nothing frightfuller than to see these voting and deciding." If we "went down to the roots of it," this statement is simply untrue. "Democracy," he says, "is, by the nature of it, a self-canceling business, and gives, in the long run, a net result of zero."
Because the law of gravitation is uncompromising, things are not, therefore, crushed in a wild rush to the centre of attraction. The very traits that make Carlyle so entertaining and effective as a historian and biographer, namely, his fierce, man-devouring eyes, make him impracticable in the sphere of practical politics.
Let me quote a long and characteristic passage from Carlyle's Latter-Day Pamphlets, one of dozens of others, illustrating his misconception of universal suffrage: —
"Your ship cannot double Cape Horn by its excellent plans of voting. The ship may vote this and that, above decks and below, in the most harmonious, exquisitely constitutional manner; the ship, to get round Cape Horn, will find a set of conditions already voted for and fixed with adamantine rigor by the ancient Elemental Powers, who are entirely careless how you vote. If you can, by voting or without voting, ascertain these conditions, and valiantly conform to them, you will get around the Cape: if you cannot, the ruffian winds will blow you ever back again; the inexorable Icebergs, dumb privy-councilors from Chaos, will nudge you with most chaotic 'admonition;' you will be flung half frozen on the Patagonian cliffs, or admonished into shivers by your iceberg councilors and sent sheer down to Davy Jones, and will never get around Cape Horn at all! Unanimity on board ship; — yes, indeed, the ship's crew may be very unanimous, which, doubtless, for the time being, will be very comfortable to the ship's crew and to their Phantasm Captain, if they have one; but if the tack they unanimously steer upon is guiding them into the belly of the Abyss, it will not profit them much! Ships, accordingly, do not use the ballot-box at all; and they reject the Phantasm species of Captain. One wishes much some other Entities — since all entities lie under the same rigorous set of laws — could be brought to show as much wisdom and sense at least of self-preservation, the first command of nature. Phantasm Captains with unanimous votings, — this is considered to be all the law and all the prophets at present."
This has the real crushing Carlylean wit and picturesqueness of statement, but is it the case of democracy, of universal suffrage fairly put? The eternal verities appear again, as they appear everywhere in our author in connection with this subject. They recur in his pages like "minute-guns," as if deciding, by the count of heads, whether Jones or Smith should go to Parliament or to Congress was equivalent to sitting in judgment upon the law of gravitation. What the ship in doubling Cape Horn would very likely do, if it found itself officerless, would be to choose, by some method more or less approaching a count of heads, a captain, an ablest man to take command, and put the vessel through. If none were able, then indeed the case were desperate; with or without the ballot-box, the abyss would be pretty sure of a victim. In any case there would perhaps be as little voting to annul the storms, or change the ocean currents, as there is in democracies to settle ethical or scientific principles by an appeal to universal suffrage. But Carlyle was fated to see the abyss lurking under, and the eternities presiding over, every act of life. He saw everything in fearful gigantic perspective. It is true that one cannot loosen the latchet of his shoe without bending to forces that are cosmical, sidereal; but whether he bends or not, or this way or that, he passes no verdict upon them. The temporary, the expedient, — all those devices and adjustments that are of the nature of scaffolding, and that enter so largely into the administration of the coarser affairs of this world, — were with Carlyle equivalent to the false, the sham, the phantasmal, and he would none of them. As the ages seem to have settled themselves for the present and the future, in all civilized countries, — and especially in America, — politics is little more than scaffolding; it certainly is not the house we live in, but an appurtenance or necessity of the house. A government, in the long run, can never be better or worse than the people governed. In voting for Jones for constable, am I voting for or against the unalterable laws of the universe, — an act wherein the consequences of a mistake are so appalling that voting had better be dispensed with, and the selection of constables be left to the evolutionary principle of the solar system?
Carlyle was not a reconciler. When he saw a fact, he saw it with such intense and magnifying eyes, as I have already said, that it became at once irreconcilable with other facts. He could not and would not reconcile popular government, the rule of majorities, with what he knew and what we all know to be popular follies, or the proneness of the multitude to run after humbugs. How easy for fallacies, speciosities, quackeries, etc., to become current! That a thing is popular makes a wise man look upon it with suspicion. Are the greatest or best books the most read books? Have not the great principles, the great reforms, begun in minorities and fought their way against the masses? Does not the multitude generally greet its saviors with "Crucify him, crucify him"? Who have been the martyrs and the persecuted in all ages? Where does the broad road lead to, and which is the Narrow Way? "Can it be proved that, since the beginning of the world, there was ever given a universal vote in favor of the worthiest man or thing? I have aways understood that true worth, in any department, was difficult to recognize; that the worthiest, if he appealed to universal suffrage, would have but a poor chance."
Upon these facts Carlyle planted himself, and the gulf which he saw open between them and the beauties of universal suffrage was simply immense. Without disputing the facts here, we may ask if they really bear upon the question of popular government, of a free ballot? If so, then the ground is clean shot away from under it. The world is really governed and led by minorities, and always will be. The many, sooner or later, follow the one. We have all become abolitionists in this country, some of us much to our surprise and bewilderment; we hardly know yet how it happened; but the time was when abolitionists were hunted by the multitude. Marvelous to relate, also, civil service reform has become popular among our politicians. Something has happened; the tide has risen while we slept, or while we mocked and laughed, and away we all go on the current. Yet it is equally true that, under any form of government, nothing short of events themselves, nothing short of that combination of circumstances which we name fate or fortune, can place that exceptional man, the hero, at the head of affairs. If there are no heroes, then woe to the people who have lost the secret of producing great men.
The worthiest man usually has other work to do, and avoids politics. Carlyle himself could not be induced to stand for Parliament. "Who would govern," he says, "that can get along without governing? He that is fittest for it is of all men the unwillingest unless constrained." But constrained he cannot be, yet he is our only hope. What shall we do? A government by the fittest can alone save mankind, yet the fittest is not forthcoming. We do not know him; he does not know himself. The case is desperate. Hence the despair of Carlyle in his view of modern politics.
Who that has read his history of Frederick has not at times felt that he would gladly be the subject of a real king like the great Prussian, a king who was indeed the father of his people; a sovereign man at the head of affairs with the reins of government all in his own hands; an imperial husbandman devoted to improving, extending, and building up his nation as the farmer his farm, and toiling as husbandman ever toiled; a man to reverence, to love, to fear; who called all the women his daughters, and all the men his sons, and whom to see and to speak with was the event of a lifetime; a shepherd to his people, a lion to his enemies? Such a man gives head and character to a nation; he is the head and the people are the body; currents of influence and of power stream down from such a hero to the life of the humblest peasant; his spirit diffuses itself through the nation. It is the ideal state; it is captivating to the imagination; there is an artistic completeness about it. Probably this is why it so captivated Carlyle, inevitable artist that he was. But how impossible to us! how impossible to any English-speaking people by their own action and choice; not because we are unworthy such a man, but because an entirely new order of things has arrived, and arrived in due course of time, through the political and social evolution of man. The old world has passed away; the age of the hero, of the strong leader, is gone. The people have arrived, and sit in judgment upon all who would rule or lead them. Science has arrived, everything is upon trial; private judgment is supreme. Our only hope in this country, at least in the sphere of governments, is in the collective wisdom of the people; and, as extremes so often meet, perhaps this, if thoroughly realized, is as complete and artistic a plan as the others. The "collective folly" of the people, Carlyle would say, and perhaps during his whole life he never for a moment saw it otherwise; never saw that the wisdom of the majority could be other than the no-wisdom of blind masses of unguided men. He seemed to forget, or else not to know, that universal suffrage, as exemplified in America, was really a sorting and sifting process, a search for the wise, the truly representative man; that the vast masses were not asked who should rule over them, but were asked which of two candidates they preferred, in selecting which candidates what of wisdom and leadership there was available had had their due weight; in short, that democracy alone makes way for and offers a clear road to natural leadership. Under the pressure of opposing parties, all the political wisdom and integrity there is in the country stand between the people, the masses, and the men of their choice.
Undoubtedly popular government will, in the main, be like any other popular thing, — it will partake of the conditions of popularity; it will seldom elevate the greatest; it will never elevate the meanest; it is based upon the average virtue and intelligence of the people.
There have been great men in all countries and times who possessed the elements of popularity, and would have commanded the suffrage of the people; on the other hand, there have been men who possessed many elements of popularity, but few traits of true greatness; others with greatness, but no elements of popularity. These last are the reformers, the innovators, the starters, and their greatness is a discovery of after-times. Popular suffrage cannot elevate these men, and if, as between the two other types, it more frequently seizes upon the last, it is because the former is the more rare.
But there is a good deal of delusion about the proneness of the multitude to run after quacks and charlatans: a multitude runs, but a larger multitude does not run; and those that do run soon see their mistake. Real worth, real merit, alone wins the permanent suffrage of mankind. In every neighborhood and community the best men are held in highest regard by the most persons. The world over, the names most fondly cherished are those most worthy of being cherished. Yet this does not prevent that certain types of great men — men who are in advance of their times and announce new doctrines and faiths — will be rejected and denied by their contemporaries. This is the order of nature. Minorities lead and save the world, and the world knows them not till long afterward.
No man perhaps suspects how large and important the region of unconsciousness in him, what a vast, unknown territory lies there back of his conscious will and purpose, and which is really the controlling power of his life. Out of it things arise, and shape and define themselves to his consciousness and rule his career. Here the influence of environment works; here the elements of race, of family; here the Time-Spirit moulds him and he knows it not; here Nature, or Fate, as we sometimes name it, rules him and makes him what he is. In every people or nation stretches this deep, unsuspected background. Here the great movements begin; here the deep processes go on; here the destiny of the race or nation really lies. In this soil the new ideas are sown; the new man, the despised leader, plants his seed here, and if they be vital, they thrive, and in due time emerge and become the conscious possession of the community. None knew better than Carlyle himself that, whoever be the ostensible potentates and law-makers the wise do virtually rule, the natural leaders do lead. Wisdom will out: it is the one thing in this world that cannot be suppressed or annulled. There is not a parish, township, or community, little or big, in this country or in England, that is not finally governed, shaped, directed, built up by what of wisdom there is in it. All the leading industries and enterprises gravitate naturally to the hands best able to control them. The wise furnish employment for the unwise, capital flows to capital hands as surely as water seeks water.
There never is and never can be any government but by the wisest. In all nations and communities the law of nature finally prevails. If there is no wisdom in the people, there will be none in their rulers; the virtue and intelligence of the representative will not be essentially different from that of his constituents. The dependence of the foolish, the thriftless, the improvident, upon his natural master and director, for food, employment, for life itself, is just as real to-day in America as it was in the old feudal or patriarchal times. The relation between the two is not so obvious, so intimate, so voluntary, but it is just as vital and essential. How shall we know the wise man unless he makes himself felt, or seen, or heard? How shall we know the master unless he masters us? Is there any danger that the real captains will not step to the front, and that we shall not know them when they do? Shall we not know a Luther, a Cromwell, a Franklin, a Washington?
"Man," says Carlyle, "little as he may suppose it, is necessitated to obey superiors; he is a social being in virtue of this necessity; nay, he could not be gregarious otherwise; he obeys those whom he esteems better than himself, wiser, braver, and will forever obey such; and ever be ready and delighted to do it." Think in how many ways, through how many avenues, in our times, the wise man can reach us and place himself at our head, or mould us to his liking, as orator, statesman, poet, philosopher, preacher, editor. If he has any wise mind to speak, any scheme to unfold, there is the rostrum or pulpit and crowds ready to hear him, or there is the steam-power press ready to disseminate his wisdom to the four corners of the earth. He can set up a congress or a parliament and really make and unmake the laws, by his own fireside, in any country that has a free press. "If we will consider it, the essential truth of the matter is, every British man can now elect himself to Parliament without consulting the hustings at all. If there be any vote, idea, or notion in him, or any earthly or heavenly thing, cannot he take a pen and therewith autocratically pour forth the same into the ears and hearts of all people, so far as it will go?" ("Past and Present.") or, there is the pulpit everywhere waiting to be worthily filled. What may not the real hero accomplish here? "Indeed, is not this that we call spiritual guidance properly the soul of the whole, the life and eyesight of the whole?" Some one has even said, "Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes the laws." Certainly the great poet of a people is its real Founder and King. He rules for centuries and rules in the heart.
In more primitive times, and amid more rudely organized communities, the hero, the strong man, could step to the front and seize the leadership like the buffalo of the plains or the wild horse of the pampas; but in our time, at least among English-speaking races, he must be more or less called by the suffrage of the people. It is quite certain that, had there been a seventeenth or eighteenth century Carlyle, he would not have seen the hero in Cromwell, or in Frederick, that the nineteenth century Carlyle saw in each. In any case, in any event, the dead rule us more than the living; we cannot escape the past. It is not merely by virtue of the sunlight that falls now, and the rain and dew that it brings, that we continue here; but by virtue of the sunlight of Šons of past ages.
"This land of England has its conquerors, possessors, which change from epoch to epoch, from day to day; but its real conquerors, creators, and eternal proprietors are these following and their representatives, if you can find them: all the Heroic Souls that ever were in England, each in their degree; all the men that ever cut a thistle, drained a puddle out of England, contrived a wise scheme in England, did or said a true and valiant thing in England." "Work? The quantity of done and forgotten work that lies silent under my feet in this world, and escorts and attends me and supports and keeps me alive, wheresoever I walk or stand, whatsoever I think or do, gives rise to reflections!" In our own politics, has our first President ever ceased to be President? Does he not still sit there, the stern and blameless patriot, uttering counsel?
Carlyle had no faith in the inherent tendency of things to right themselves, to adjust themselves to their own proper standards; the conservative force of Nature, the checks and balances by which her own order and succession is maintained; the Darwinian principle, according to which the organic life of the globe has been evolved, the higher and more complex forms mounting from the lower, the true palingenesia, the principle or power, name it Fate, name it Necessity, name it God, or what you will, which finally lifts a people, a race, an age, and even a community above the reach of choice, of accident, of individual will, into the region of general law. So little is life what we make it, after all; so little is the course of history, the destiny of nations, the result of any man's purpose, or direction, or will, so great is Fate, so insignificant is man! The human body is made up of a vast congeries or association of minute cells, each with its own proper work and function, at which it toils incessantly night and day, and thinks of nothing beyond. The shape, the size, the color of the body, its degree of health and strength, etc., — no cell or series of cells decides these points; a law above and beyond the cell determines them. The final destiny and summing up of a nation is, perhaps, as little within the conscious will and purpose of the individual citizens. When you come to large masses, to long periods, the law of nature steps in. The day is hot or the day is cold, the spring is late or the spring is early; but the inclination of the earth's axis makes the winter and summer sure. The wind blows this way and blows that, but the great storms gyrate and travel in one general direction. There is a wind of the globe that never varies, and there is the breeze of the mountain that is never two days alike. The local hurricane moves the waters of the sea to a depth of but a few feet, but the tidal impulse goes to the bottom. Men and communities in this world are often in the position of arctic explorers, who are making great speed in a given direction while the ice-floe beneath them is making greater speed in the opposite direction. This kind of progress has often befallen political and ecclesiastical parties in this country. Behind mood lies temperament; back of the caprice of will lies the fate of character; back of both is the bias of family; back of that, the tyranny of race; still deeper, the power of climate, of soil, of geology, the whole physical and moral environment. Still we are free men only so far as we rise above these. We cannot abolish fate, but we can in a measure utilize it. The projectile force of the bullet does not annul or suspend gravity; it uses it. The floating vapor is just as true an illustration of the law of gravity as the falling avalanche.
Carlyle, I say, had sounded these depths that lie beyond the region of will and choice, beyond the sphere of man's moral accountability; but in life, in action, in conduct, no man shall take shelter here. One may summon his philosophy when he is beaten in battle, and not till then. You shall not shirk the hobbling Times to catch a ride on the sure-footed Eternities. "The times are bad; very well, you are there to make them better." "The public highways ought not to be occupied by people demonstrating that motion is impossible." ("Chartism.")
Caroline Fox, in her "Memoirs of Old Friends," reports a smart saying about Carlyle, current in her time, which has been current in some form or other ever since; namely, that he had a large capital of faith uninvested, — carried it about him as ready money, I suppose, working capital. It is certainly true that it was not locked up in any of the various social and religious safe-deposits. He employed a vast deal of it in his daily work. It took not a little to set Cromwell up, and Frederick. Indeed, it is doubtful if among his contemporaries there was a man with so active a faith, — so little invested in paper securities. His religion, as a present living reality, went with him into every question. He did not believe that the Maker of this universe had retired from business, or that he was merely a sleeping partner in the concern. "Original sin," he says, "and such like are bad enough, I doubt not; but distilled sin, dark ignorance, stupidity, dark corn-law, bastile and company, what are they?" For creeds, theories, philosophies, plans for reforming the world, etc., he cared nothing, he would not invest one moment in them; but the hero, the worker, the doer, justice, veracity, courage, these drew him, — in these he put his faith. What to other people were mere abstractions were urgent, pressing realities to Carlyle. Every truth or fact with him has a personal inclination, points to conduct, points to duty. He could not invest himself in creeds and formulas, but in that which yielded an instant return in force, justice, character. He has no philosophical impartiality. He has been broken up; there have been moral convulsions; the rock stands on end. Hence the vehement and precipitous character of his speech, — its wonderful picturesqueness and power. The spirit of gloom and dejection that possesses him, united to such an indomitable spirit of work and helpfulness, is very noteworthy. Such courage, such faith, such unshaken adamantine belief in the essential soundness and healthfulness that lay beneath all this weltering and chaotic world of folly and evil about him, in conjunction with such pessimism and despondency, was never before seen in a man of letters. I am reminded that in this respect he was more like a root of the tree of Igdrasil than like a branch; one of the central and master roots, with all that implies, toiling and grappling in the gloom, but full of the spirit of light. How he delves and searches; how much he made live and bloom again; how he sifted the soil for the last drop of heroic blood! The Fates are there, too, with water from the sacred well. He is quick, sensitive, full of tenderness and pity; yet he is savage and brutal when you oppose him, or seek to wrench him from his holdings. His stormy outbursts always leave the moral atmosphere clear and bracing; he does not communicate the gloom and despondency he feels, because he brings us so directly and unfailingly in contact with the perennial sources of hope and faith, with the life-giving and the life-renewing. Though the heavens fall, the orbs of truth and justice fall not. Carlyle was like an unhoused soul, naked and bare to every wind that blows. He felt the awful cosmic chill. He could not take shelter in the creed of his fathers, nor in any of the opinions and beliefs of his time. He could not and did not try to fend himself against the keen edge of the terrible doubts, the awful mysteries, the abysmal questions and duties. He lived and wrought on in the visible presence of God. This was no myth to him, but a terrible reality. How the immensities open and yawn about him! He was like a man who should suddenly see his relations to the universe, both physical and moral, in gigantic perspective, and never through life lose the awe, the wonder, the fear, the revelation inspired. The veil, the illusion of the familiar, the commonplace, is torn away. The natural becomes the supernatural. Every question, every character, every duty, was seen against the immensities, like figures in the night against a background of fire, and seen as if for the first time. The sidereal, the cosmical, the eternal, — we grow familiar with these or lose sight of them entirely. But Carlyle never lost sight of them; his sense of them became morbidly acute, preternaturally developed, and it was as if he saw every movement of the hand, every fall of a leaf, as an emanation of solar energy. A "haggard mood of the imagination" (his own phrase) was habitual with him. He could see only the tragical in life and in history. Events were imminent, poised like avalanches that a word might loosen. We see Jeffries perpetually amazed at his earnestness, the gradations in his mind were so steep; the descent from the thought to the deed was so swift and inevitable that the witty advocate came to look upon him as a man to be avoided.
"Daily and hourly," he says (at the age of thirty-eight), "the world natural grows more of a world magical to me; this is as it should be. Daily, too, I see that there is no true poetry but in reality."
"The gist of my whole way of thought," he says again, "is to raise the natural to the supernatural." To his brother John he wrote in 1832: "I get more earnest, graver, not unhappier, every day. The whole creation seems more and more divine to me, the natural more and more supernatural." His eighty-five years did not tame him at all, did not blunt his conception of the "fearfulness and wonderfulness of life." Sometimes an opiate or an anŠsthetic operates inversely upon a constitution, and, instead of inducing somnolence, makes the person wildly wakeful and sensitive. The anodyne of life acted this way upon Carlyle, and, instead of quieting or benumbing him, filled him with portentous imaginings and fresh cause for wonder. There is a danger that such a mind, if it takes to literature, will make a mess of it. But Carlyle is saved by his tremendous gripe upon reality. Do I say the ideal and the real were one with him? He made the ideal the real, and the only real. Whatever he touched he made tangible, actual, and vivid. Ideas are hurled like rocks, a word blisters like a branding-iron, a metaphor transfixes like a javelin. There is something in his sentences that lays hold of things, as the acids bite metals. His subtle thoughts, his marvelous wit, like the viewless gases of the chemist, combine with a force that startles the reader.
Carlyle differs from the ordinary religious enthusiast in the way he bares his bosom to the storm. His attitude is rather one of gladiatorial resignation than supplication. He makes peace with nothing, takes refuge in nothing. He flouts at happiness, at repose, at joy. "There is in man a higher than love of happiness; he can do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness." "The life of all gods figures itself to us as a sublime sadness, — earnestness of infinite battle against infinite labor. Our highest religion is named the 'Worship of Sorrow.' For the Son of Man there is no noble crown, well worn or even ill worn, but is a crown of thorns." His own worship is a kind of defiant admiration of Eternal Justice. He asks no quarter, and will give none. He turns upon the grim destinies a look as undismayed and as uncompromising as their own. Despair cannot crush him; he will crush it. The more it bears on, the harder he will work. The way to get rid of wretchedness is to despise it; the way to conquer the devil is to defy him; the way to gain heaven is to turn your back upon it, and be as unflinching as the gods themselves. Satan may be roasted in his own flames; Tophet may be exploded with its own sulphur. "Despicable biped!" (Teufelsdr÷kh is addressing himself.) "What is the sum total of the worst that lies before thee? Death? Well, death; and say the pangs of Tophet, too, and all that the devil and man may, will, or can do against thee! Hast thou not a heart? Canst thou not suffer what so it be, and as a child of freedom, though outcast, trample Tophet itself under thy feet while it consumes thee? Let it come, then; I will meet it and defy it." This is the "Everlasting No" of Teufelsdr÷kh, the annihilation of self. Having thus routed Satan with his own weapons, the "Everlasting Yea" is to people his domain with fairer forms; to find your ideal in the world about you. "Thy condition is but the stuff thou art to shape that same ideal out of; what matters whether such stuff be of this sort or of that, so the form thou give it be heroic, be poetic?" Carlyle's watchword through life, as I have said, was the German word Entsagen, or renunciation. The perfect flower of religion opens in the soul only when all self-seeking is abandoned. The divine, the heroic attitude is: "I ask not Heaven, I fear not Hell; I crave the truth alone, withersoever it may lead." "Truth! I cried, though the heavens crush me for following her; no falsehood, though a celestial lubberland were the price of apostasy." The truth, — what is the truth? Carlyle answers: That which you believe with all your soul and all your might and all your strength, and are ready to face Tophet for, — that, for you, is the truth. Such a seeker was he himself. It matters little whether we agree that he found it or not. The law of this universe is such that where the love, the desire, is perfect and supreme, the truth is already found. That is the truth, not the letter, but the spirit; the seeker and the sought are one. Can you by searching find out God? "Moses cried, 'When, O Lord, shall I find thee? God said, Know that when thou hast sought thou hast already found me.' " This is Carlyle's position, so far as it can be defined. He hated dogma as he hated poison. No direct or dogmatic statement of religious belief or opinion could he tolerate. He abandoned the church, for which his father designed him, because of his inexorable artistic sense; he could not endure the dogma that the church rested upon, the pedestal of clay upon which the golden image was reared. The gold he held to, as do all serious souls, but the dogma of clay he quickly dropped. "Whatever becomes of us," he said, referring to this subject in a letter to a friend when he was in his twenty-third year, "never let us cease to behave like honest men."
Carlyle had an enormous egoism, but to do the work he felt called on to do, to offset and withstand the huge, roaring, on-rushing modern world as he did, required an enormous egoism. In more senses than one do the words applied to the old prophet apply to him: "For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land." He was a defenced city, an iron pillar, and brazen wall, in the extent to which he was riveted and clinched in his own purpose and aim, as well as in his attitude of opposition or hostility to the times in which he lived.
Froude, whose life of Carlyle in its just completed form, let me say here, has no equal in interest or literary value among biographies since his master's life of Sterling, presents his hero to us a prophet in the literal and utilitarian sense, as a foreteller of the course of events, and says that an adequate estimate of his work is not yet possible. We must wait and see if he was right about democracy, about America, universal suffrage, progress of the species, etc. "Whether his message was a true message remains to be seen." "If he was wrong he has misused his powers. The principles of his teaching are false. He has offered himself as a guide upon a road of which he had no knowledge; and his own desire for himself would be the speediest oblivion both of his person and his works."
But the man was true; there can be no doubt about that; and when such is the case the message may safely be left to take care of itself. We have got the full force and benefit of it in our own day and generation, whether our "cherished ideas of political liberty, with their kindred corollaries," prove illusions or not. All high spiritual and prophetic utterances are instantly their own proof and justification, or they are naught. Does Mr. Froude really mean that the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah have become a part of the permanent "spiritual inheritance of mankind" because they were literally fulfilled in specific instances, and not because they were true from the first and always, as the impassioned yearnings and uprisings and reachings-forth of high God-burdened souls at all times are true? Regarded merely as a disturbing and overturning force, Carlyle was of great value. There never was a time, especially in an era like ours, when the opinion and moral conviction of the race did not need subsoiling, loosening up from the bottom, — the shock of rude, scornful, merciless power. There are ten thousand agencies and instrumentalities titillating the surface, smoothing, pulverizing, and vulgarizing the top. Chief of these is the gigantic, ubiquitous newspaper press, without character and without conscience; then the lyceum, the pulpit, the novel, the club, — all cultivating the superficies, and helping make life shallow and monotonous. How deep does the leading editorial go, or the review article, or the Sunday sermon? But such a force as Carlyle disturbs our complacency. Opinion is shocked, but it is deepened. The moral and intellectual resources of all men have been added to. But the literal fulfillment and verification of his prophecies, — shall we insist upon that? Is not a prophet his own proof, the same as a poet? Must we summon witnesses and go into the justice-court of fact? The only questions to be asked are: Was he an inspired man? was his an authoritative voice? did he touch bottom? was he sincere? was he grounded and rooted in character? It is not the stamp on the coin that gives it its value, though on the bank-note it is. Carlyle's words were not promises, but performances; they are good now if ever. To test him by his political opinions is like testing Shakespeare by his fidelity to historical fact in his plays, or judging Lucretius by his philosophy, or Milton or Dante by their theology. Carlyle was just as distinctively an imaginative writer as were any of these men, and his case is to be tried on the same grounds. It is his utterances as a seer, touching conduct, touching duty, touching nature, touching the soul, touching life, that most concern us, — the ideal to be cherished, the standard he held to.
Carlyle was a poet touched with religious wrath and fervor, and he confronted his times and country as squarely and in the same spirit as did the old prophets. He predicts nothing, foretells nothing, except death and destruction to those who depart from the ways of the Lord, or, in modern phrase, from nature and truth. He shared the Hebraic sense of the awful mystery and fearfulness of life and the splendor and inexorableness of the moral law. His habitual mood was not one of contemplation and enjoyment, but of struggle and "desperate hope." The deep biblical word fear, — fear of the Lord, — he knew what that meant, as few moderns did.
He was antagonistic to his country and his times, and who would have had him otherwise? Let him be the hammer on the other side that clinches the nail. He did not believe in democracy, in popular sovereignty, in the progress of the species, in the political equality of Jesus and Judas; in fact, he repudiated with mingled wrath and sorrow the whole American idea and theory of politics: yet who shall say that his central doctrine of the survival of the fittest, the nobility of labor, the exaltation of justice, valor, pity, the leadership of character, truth, nobility, wisdom, etc., is really and finally inconsistent with, or inimical to, that which is valuable and permanent and formative in the modern movement? I think it is the best medicine and regimen for it that could be suggested, — the best stay and counterweight. For the making of good democrats, there are no books like Carlyle's, and we in America need especially to cherish him, and to lay his lesson to heart.
It is his supreme merit that he spoke with absolute sincerity; not according to the beliefs, traditions, conventionalities of his times, for they were mostly against him, but according to his private and solemn conviction of what the will of his Maker with reference to himself was. The reason why so much writing and preaching sounds hollow and insincere compared with his is that the writers and speakers are mostly under the influence of current beliefs or received traditions; they deliver themselves of what they have been taught, or what is fashionable and pleasant; they draw upon a sort of public fund of conviction and sentiment and not at all from original private resources, as he did. It is not their own minds or their own experience they speak from, but a vague, featureless, general mind and general experience. We drink from a cistern or reservoir and not from a fountain-head. Carlyle always takes us to the source of intense personal and original conviction. The spring may be a hot spring, or a sulphur spring, or a spouting spring, — a geyser, as Froude says, shooting up volumes of steam and stone, — or the most refreshing and delicious of fountains (and he seems to have been all these things alternately); but in any case it was an original source and came from out the depths, at times from out the Plutonic depths.
He bewails his gloom and loneliness, and the isolation of his soul in the paths in which he was called to walk. In many ways he was an exile, a wanderer, forlorn or uncertain, like one who had missed the road, — at times groping about sorrowfully, anon desperately hewing his way through all manner of obstructions. He presents the singular anomaly of a great man, of a towering and unique genius, such as appears at intervals of centuries, who was not in any sense representative, who had no precursors and who left no followers, — a man isolated, exceptional, towering like a solitary peak or cone set over against the main ranges. He is in line with none of the great men, or small men, of his age and country. His message is unwelcome to them. He is an enormous reaction or rebound from the all-leveling tendencies of democracy. No wonder he thought himself the most solitary man in the world, and bewailed his loneliness continually. He was the most solitary. Of all the great men his race and country have produced, none, perhaps, were quite so isolated and set apart as he. None shared so little the life and aspirations of their countrymen, or were so little sustained by the spirit of their age. The literature, the religion, the science, the politics of his times were alike hateful to him. His spirit was as lonely as a "peak in Darien." He felt himself on a narrow isthmus of time, confronted by two eternities, — the eternity past and the eternity to come. Daily and hourly he felt the abysmal solitude that surrounded him. Endowed with the richest fund of sympathy, and yet sympathizing with so little; burdened with solicitude for the public weal, and yet in no vital or intimate relation with the public he would serve; deeply absorbed in the social and political problems of his time, and yet able to arrive at no adequate practical solution of them; passionately religious, and yet repudiating all creeds and forms of worship; despising the old faiths, and disgusted with the new; honoring science, and acknowledging his debt to it, yet drawing back with horror from conclusions to which science seemed inevitably to lead; essentially a man of action, of deeds, of heroic fibre, yet forced to become a "writer of books;" a democrat who denounced democracy; a radical who despised radicalism; "a Puritan without a creed."
These things measure the depth of his sincerity; he never lost heart or hope, though heart and hope had so little that was tangible to go upon. He had the piety and zeal of a religious devotee, without the devotee's comforting belief; the fiery earnestness of a reformer, without the reformer's definite aims; the spirit of science, without the scientific coolness and disinterestedness; the heart of a hero, without the hero's insensibilities; he had strugglings, wrestlings, agonizings, without any sense of victory; his foes were invisible and largely imaginary, but all the more terrible and unconquerable on that account. Verily was he lonely, heavy laden, and at best full of "desperate hope." His own work, which was accomplished with such pains and labor throes, gave him no satisfaction. When he was idle, his demon tormented him with the cry, "Work, work;" and when he was toiling at his tasks, his obstructions, torpidities, and dispiritments nearly crushed him.
It is probably true that he thought he had some special mission to mankind, something as definite and tangible as Luther had. His stress and heat of conviction were such as only the great world-reformers have been possessed of. He was burdened with the sins and follies of mankind, and must mend them. His mission was to mend them, but perhaps in quite other ways than he thought. He sought to restore an age fast passing, — the age of authority, the age of the heroic leader; but toward the restoration of such age he had no effect whatever. The tide of democracy sweeps on. He was like Xerxes whipping the sea. His real mission he was far less conscious of, for it was what his search for the hero implied and brought forward that he finally bequeathed us. If he did not make us long for the strong man to rule over us, he made us love all manly and heroic qualities afresh, and as if by a new revelation of their value. He made all shallowness and shams wear such a face as they never before wore. He made it easier for all men to be more truthful and earnest. Hence his final effect and value was as a fountain of fresh moral conviction and power. The old stock truths perpetually need restating and reapplying on fresh grounds and in large and unexpected ways. And how he restated them and reinforced them! veracity, sincerity, courage, justice, manliness, religiousness, — fairly burning them into the conscience of his times. He took the great facts of existence out of the mouths of priests, out of their conventional theological swathing, where they were fast becoming mummified, and presented them quick or as living and breathing realities.
It may be added that Carlyle was one of those men whom the world can neither make nor break, — a meteoric rock from out the fiery heavens, bound to hit hard if not self-consumed, and not looking at all for a convenient or a soft place to alight, — a blazing star in his literary expression, but in his character and purpose the most tangible and unconquerable of men. "Thou, O World, how wilt thou secure thyself against this man? Thou canst not hire him by thy guineas, nor by thy gibbets and law penalties restrain him. He dudes thee like a Spirit. Thou canst not forward him, thou canst not hinder him. Thy penalties, thy poverties, neglects, contumelies: behold, all these are good for him."
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