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Title: Critical Miscellanies, Vol. I - Essay 2: Carlyle
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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  CRITICAL
  MISCELLANIES

  BY

  JOHN MORLEY


  VOL. I.

  ESSAY 2: CARLYLE


  London
  MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
  NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
  1904



  CONTENTS

  Mr. Carlyle's influence, and degree of its durability              135

  His literary services                                              139

  No label useful in characterising him                              142

  The poetic and the scientific temperaments                         144

  Rousseau and Mr. Carlyle                                           147

  The poetic method of handling social questions                     149

  Impotent unrest, and his way of treating it                        152

  Founded on the purest individualism                                154

  Mr. Carlyle's historic position in the European reaction           157

  Coleridge                                                          159

  Byron                                                              161

  Mr. Carlyle's victory over Byronism                                163

  Goethe                                                             164

  Mr. Carlyle's intensely practical turn, though veiled              166

  His identification of material with moral order                    169

  And acceptance of the doctrine that the end justifies the means    170

  Two sets of relations still regulated by pathological principle    172

  Defect in Mr. Carlyle's discussion of them                         174

  His reticences                                                     176

  Equally hostile to metaphysics and to the extreme pretensions
  of the physicist                                                   177

  Natural Supernaturalism, and the measure of its truth              179

  Two qualities flowing from his peculiar fatalism:--
    (1) Contempt for excess of moral nicety                          182
    (2) Defect of sympathy with masses of men                        186

  Perils in his constant sense of the nothingness of life            188

  Hero-worship, and its inadequateness                               189

  Theories of the dissolution of the old European order              193

  Mr. Carlyle's view of the French Revolution                        195

  Of the Reformation and Protestantism                               197

  Inability to understand the political point of view                199



CARLYLE.


The new library edition of Mr. Carlyle's works may be taken for the
final presentation of all that the author has to say to his
contemporaries, and to possess the settled form in which he wishes his
words to go to those of posterity who may prove to have ears for them.
The canon is definitely made up. The golden Gospel of Silence is
effectively compressed in thirty fine volumes. After all has been said
about self-indulgent mannerisms, moral perversities, phraseological
outrages, and the rest, these volumes will remain the noble monument of
the industry, originality, conscientiousness, and genius of a noble
character, and of an intellectual career that has exercised on many
sides the profoundest sort of influence upon English feeling. Men who
have long since moved far away from these spiritual latitudes, like
those who still find an adequate shelter in them, can hardly help
feeling as they turn the pages of the now disused pieces which they were
once wont to ponder daily, that whatever later teachers may have done in
definitely shaping opinion, in giving specific form to sentiment, and in
subjecting impulse to rational discipline, here was the friendly
fire-bearer who first conveyed the Promethean spark, here the prophet
who first smote the rock.

That with this sense of obligation to the master, there mixes a less
satisfactory reminiscence of youthful excess in imitative phrases, in
unseasonably apostolic readiness towards exhortation and rebuke, in
interest about the soul, a portion of which might more profitably have
been converted into care for the head, is in most cases true. A hostile
observer of bands of Carlylites at Oxford and elsewhere might have been
justified in describing the imperative duty of work as the theme of many
an hour of strenuous idleness, and the superiority of golden silence
over silver speech as the text of endless bursts of jerky rapture, while
a too constant invective against cant had its usual effect of developing
cant with a difference. To the incorrigibly sentimental all this was
sheer poison, which continues tenaciously in the system. Others of
robuster character no sooner came into contact with the world and its
fortifying exigencies, than they at once began to assimilate the
wholesome part of what they had taken in, while the rest falls gradually
and silently out. When criticism has done its just work on the
disagreeable affectations of many of Mr. Carlyle's disciples, and on the
nature of Mr. Carlyle's opinions and their worth as specific
contributions, very few people will be found to deny that his influence
in stimulating moral energy, in kindling enthusiasm for virtues worthy
of enthusiasm, and in stirring a sense of the reality on the one hand,
and the unreality on the other, of all that man can do or suffer, has
not been surpassed by any teacher now living.

One of Mr. Carlyle's chief and just glories is, that for more than forty
years he has clearly seen, and kept constantly and conspicuously in his
own sight and that of his readers, the profoundly important crisis in
the midst of which we are living. The moral and social dissolution in
progress about us, and the enormous peril of sailing blindfold and
haphazard, without rudder or compass or chart, have always been fully
visible to him, and it is no fault of his if they have not become
equally plain to his contemporaries. The policy of drifting has had no
countenance from him. That a society should be likely to last with
hollow and scanty faith, with no government, with a number of
institutions hardly one of them real, with a horrible mass of
poverty-stricken and hopeless subjects; that, if it should last, it
could be regarded as other than an abomination of desolation, he has
boldly and often declared to be things incredible. We are not promoting
the objects which the social union subsists to fulfil, nor applying with
energetic spirit to the task of preparing a sounder state for our
successors. The relations between master and servant, between capitalist
and labourer, between landlord and tenant, between governing race and
subject race, between the feelings and intelligence of the legislature
and the feelings and intelligence of the nation, between the spiritual
power, literary and ecclesiastical, and those who are under it--the
anarchy that prevails in all these, and the extreme danger of it, have
been with Mr. Carlyle a never-ending theme. What seems to many of us the
extreme inefficiency or worse of his solutions, still allows us to feel
grateful for the vigour and perspicacity with which he has pressed on
the world the urgency of the problem.

The degree of durability which his influence is likely to possess with
the next and following generations is another and rather sterile
question, which we are not now concerned to discuss. The unrestrained
eccentricities which Mr. Carlyle's strong individuality has precipitated
in his written style may, in spite of the poetic fineness of his
imagination, which no historian or humorist has excelled, still be
expected to deprive his work of that permanence which is only secured by
classic form. The incorporation of so many phrases, allusions,
nicknames, that belong only to the hour, inevitably makes the vitality
of the composition conditional on the vitality of these transient and
accidental elements which are so deeply imbedded in it. Another
consideration is that no philosophic writer, however ardently his words
may have been treasured and followed by the people of his own time, can
well be cherished by succeeding generations, unless his name is
associated through some definable and positive contribution with the
central march of European thought and feeling. In other words, there is
a difference between living in the history of literature or belief, and
living in literature itself and in the minds of believers. Mr. Carlyle
has been a most powerful solvent, but it is the tendency of solvents to
become merely historic. The historian of the intellectual and moral
movements of Great Britain during the present century, will fail
egregiously in his task if he omits to give a large and conspicuous
space to the author of _Sartor Resartus_. But it is one thing to study
historically the ideas which have influenced our predecessors, and
another thing to seek in them an influence fruitful for ourselves. It is
to be hoped that one may doubt the permanent soundness of Mr. Carlyle's
peculiar speculations, without either doubting or failing to share that
warm affection and reverence which his personality has worthily inspired
in many thousands of his readers. He has himself taught us to separate
these two sides of a man, and we have learnt from him to love Samuel
Johnson without reading much or a word that the old sage wrote.
'Sterling and I walked westward,' he says once, 'arguing copiously, but
_except_ in opinion not disagreeing.'

It is none the less for what has just been said a weightier and a rarer
privilege for a man to give a stirring impulse to the moral activity of
a generation, than to write in classic style; and to have impressed the
spirit of his own personality deeply upon the minds of multitudes of
men, than to have composed most of those works which the world is said
not willingly to let die. Nor, again, is to say that this higher renown
belongs to Mr. Carlyle, to underrate the less resounding, but most
substantial, services of a definite kind which he has rendered both to
literature and history. This work may be in time superseded with the
advance of knowledge, but the value of the first service will remain
unimpaired. It was he, as has been said, 'who first taught England to
appreciate Goethe;' and not only to appreciate Goethe, but to recognise
and seek yet further knowledge of the genius and industry of Goethe's
countrymen. His splendid drama of the French Revolution has done, and
may be expected long to continue to do, more to bring before our
slow-moving and unimaginative public the portentous meaning of that
tremendous cataclysm, than all the other writings on the subject in the
English language put together. His presentation of Puritanism and the
Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell first made the most elevating period of
the national history in any way really intelligible. The Life of
Frederick the Second, whatever judgment we may pass upon its morality,
or even upon its place as a work of historic art, is a model of
laborious and exhaustive narration of facts not before accessible to the
reader of history. For all this, and for much other work eminently
useful and meritorious even from the mechanical point of view, Mr.
Carlyle deserves the warmest recognition. His genius gave him a right to
mock at the ineffectiveness of Dryasdust, but his genius was also too
true to prevent him from adding the always needful supplement of a
painstaking industry that rivals Dryasdust's own most strenuous toil.
Take out of the mind of the English reader of ordinary cultivation and
the average journalist, usually a degree or two lower than this, their
conceptions of the French Revolution and the English Rebellion, and
their knowledge of German literature and history, as well as most of
their acquaintance with the prominent men of the eighteenth century, and
we shall see how much work Mr. Carlyle has done simply as schoolmaster.

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

It would be a comparatively simple process to affix the regulation
labels of philosophy; to say that Mr. Carlyle is a Pantheist in religion
(or a Pot-theist, to use the alternative whose flippancy gave such
offence to Sterling on one occasion[1]), a Transcendentalist or
Intuitionist in ethics, an Absolutist in politics, and so forth, with
the addition of a crowd of privative or negative epithets at discretion.
But classifications of this sort are the worst enemies of true
knowledge. Such names are by the vast majority even of persons who think
themselves educated, imperfectly apprehended, ignorantly interpreted,
and crudely and recklessly applied. It is not too much to say that nine
out of ten people who think they have delivered themselves of a
criticism when they call Mr. Carlyle a Pantheist, could neither explain
with any precision what Pantheism is, nor have ever thought of
determining the parts of his writings where this particular monster is
believed to lurk. Labels are devices for saving talkative persons the
trouble of thinking. As I once wrote elsewhere:

[1] _Life of John Sterling_, p. 153.

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

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

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

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

The contentiousness of rival schools of philosophy has obscured the
application of the same distinction to the various orders of fact more
nearly and immediately relating to man and the social union. One school
has maintained the virtually unmeaning doctrine that the will is free,
and therefore its followers never gave any quarter to the idea that man
was as proper an object of scientific scrutiny morally and historically,
as they could not deny him to be anatomically and physiologically. Their
enemies have been more concerned to dislodge them from this position,
than to fortify, organise, and cultivate their own. The consequences
have not been without their danger. Poetic persons have rushed in where
scientific persons ought not to have feared to tread. That human
character and the order of events have their poetic aspect, and that
their poetic treatment demands the rarest and most valuable qualities of
mind, is a truth which none but narrow and superficial men of the world
are rash enough to deny. But that there is a scientific aspect of these
things, an order among them that can only be understood and criticised
and effectually modified scientifically, by using all the caution and
precision and infinite patience of the truly scientific spirit, is a
truth that is constantly ignored even by men and women of the loftiest
and most humane nature. In such cases misdirected and uncontrolled
sensibility ends in mournful waste of their own energy, in the certain
disappointment of their own aims, and where such sensibility is backed
by genius, eloquence, and a peculiar set of public conditions, in
prolonged and fatal disturbance of society.

Rousseau was the great type of this triumphant and dangerous sophistry
of the emotions. The Rousseau of these times for English-speaking
nations is Thomas Carlyle. An apology is perhaps needed for mentioning a
man of such simple, veracious, disinterested, and wholly high-minded
life, in the same breath with one of the least sane men that ever lived.
Community of method, like misery, makes men acquainted with strange
bed-fellows. Two men of very different degrees of moral worth may
notoriously both preach the same faith and both pursue the same method,
and the method of Rousseau is the method of Mr. Carlyle. With each of
them thought is an aspiration, and justice a sentiment, and society a
retrogression. Each bids us look within our own bosoms for truth and
right, postpones reason, to feeling, and refers to introspection and a
factitious something styled Nature, questions only to be truly solved by
external observation and history. In connection with each of them has
been exemplified the cruelty inherent in sentimentalism, when
circumstances draw away the mask. Not the least conspicuous of the
disciples of Rousseau was Robespierre. His works lay on the table of the
Committee of Public Safety. The theory of the Reign of Terror was
invented, and mercilessly reduced to practice, by men whom the visions
of Rousseau had fired, and who were not afraid nor ashamed to wade
through oceans of blood to the promised land of humanity and fine
feeling. We in our days have seen the same result of sentimental
doctrine in the barbarous love of the battle-field, the retrograde
passion for methods of repression, the contempt for human life, the
impatience of orderly and peaceful solution. We begin with introspection
and the eternities, and end in blood and iron. Again, Rousseau's first
piece was an anathema upon the science and art of his time, and a
denunciation of books and speech. Mr. Carlyle, in exactly the same
spirit, has denounced logic mills, warned us all away from literature,
and habitually subordinated discipline of the intelligence to the
passionate assertion of the will. There are passages in which he speaks
respectfully of Intellect, but he is always careful to show that he is
using the term in a special sense of his own, and confounding it with
'the exact summary of human _Worth_,' as in one place he defines it.
Thus, instead of co-ordinating moral worthiness with intellectual
energy, virtue with intelligence, right action of the will with
scientific processes of the understanding, he has either placed one
immeasurably below the other, or else has mischievously insisted on
treating them as identical. The dictates of a kind heart are of superior
force to the maxims of political economy; swift and peremptory
resolution is a safer guide than a balancing judgment. If the will works
easily and surely, we may assume the rectitude of the moving impulse.
All this is no caricature of a system which sets sentiment, sometimes
hard sentiment and sometimes soft sentiment, above reason and method.

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

Why should society, with its long and deep-hidden processes of growth,
its innumerable intricacies and far-off historic complexities, be as an
open book to any reader of its pages who brings acuteness and passion,
but no patience nor calm accuracy of meditation? Objects of thought and
observation far simpler, more free from all blinding and distorting
elements, more accessible to direct and ocular inspection, are by
rational consent reserved for the calmest and most austere moods and
methods of human intelligence. Nor is denunciation of the conditions of
a problem the quickest step towards solving it. Vituperation of the fact
that supply and demand practically regulate certain kinds of bargain, is
no contribution to systematic efforts to discover some more moral
regulator. Take all the invective that Mr. Carlyle has poured out
against political economy, the Dismal Science, and Gospel according to
M'Croudy. Granting the absolute and entire inadequateness of political
economy to sum up the laws and conditions of a healthy social state--and
no one more than the present writer deplores the mischief which the
application of the maxims of political economy by ignorant and selfish
spirits has effected in confirming the worst tendencies of the
commercial character--yet is it not a first condition of our being able
to substitute better machinery for the ordinary rules of self-interest,
that we know scientifically how those rules do and must operate? Again,
in another field, it is well to cry out: 'Caitiff, we hate thee,' with a
'hatred, a hostility inexorable, unappeasable, which blasts the
scoundrel, and all scoundrels ultimately, into black annihilation and
disappearance from the scene of things.'[2] But this is slightly vague.
It is not scientific. There are caitiffs and caitiffs. There is a more
and a less of scoundrelism, as there is a more and a less of black
annihilation, and we must have systematic jurisprudence, with its
classification of caitiffs and its graduated blasting. Has Mr. Carlyle's
passion, or have the sedulous and scientific labours of that Bentham,
whose name with him is a symbol of evil, done most in what he calls the
Scoundrel-province of Reform within the last half-century? Sterling's
criticism on Teufelsdröckh told a hard but wholesome truth to
Teufelsdröckh's creator. 'Wanting peace himself,' said Sterling, 'his
fierce dissatisfaction fixes on all that is weak, corrupt, and imperfect
around him; and instead of a calm and steady co-operation with all those
who are endeavouring to apply the highest ideas as remedies for the
worst evils, he holds himself in savage isolation.'[3]

[2] _Latter-Day Pamphlets._ II. Model Prisons, p. 92.

[3] Letter to Mr. Carlyle, in the _Life_, Pt. ii. ch. ii.

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

       *       *       *       *       *

The deep unrest of unsatisfied souls meets its earliest solace in the
effective and sympathetic expression of the same unrest from the lips of
another. To look it in the face is the first approach to a sedative. To
find our discontent with the actual, our yearning for an undefined
ideal, our aspiration after impossible heights of being, shared and
amplified in the emotional speech of a man of genius, is the beginning
of consolation. Some of the most generous spirits a hundred years ago
found this in the eloquence of Rousseau, and some of the most generous
spirits of this time and place have found it in the writer of the
_Sartor_. In ages not of faith, there will always be multitudinous
troops of people crying for the moon. If such sorrowful pastime be ever
permissible to men, it has been natural and lawful this long while in
præ-revolutionary England, as it was natural and lawful a century since
in præ-revolutionary France. A man born into a community where political
forms, from the monarchy down to the popular chamber, are mainly hollow
shams disguising the coarse supremacy of wealth, where religion is
mainly official and political, and is ever too ready to dissever itself
alike from the spirit of justice, the spirit of charity, and the spirit
of truth, and where literature does not as a rule permit itself to
discuss serious subjects frankly and worthily[4]--a community, in
short, where the great aim of all classes and orders with power is by
dint of rigorous silence, fast shutting of the eyes, and stern stopping
of the ears, somehow to keep the social pyramid on its apex, with the
fatal result of preserving for England its glorious fame as a paradise
for the well-to-do, a purgatory for the able, and a hell for the
poor--why, a man born into all this with a heart something softer than a
flint, and with intellectual vision something more acute than that of a
Troglodyte, may well be allowed to turn aside and cry for moons for a
season.

[4] Written in 1870.

Impotent unrest, however, is followed in Mr. Carlyle by what is socially
an impotent solution, just as it was with Rousseau. To bid a man do his
duty in one page, and then in the next to warn him sternly away from
utilitarianism, from political economy, from all 'theories of the moral
sense,' and from any other definite means of ascertaining what duty may
chance to be, is but a bald and naked counsel. Spiritual nullity and
material confusion in a society are not to be repaired by a
transformation of egotism, querulous, brooding, marvelling, into
egotism, active, practical, objective, not uncomplacent. The moral
movements to which the instinctive impulses of humanity fallen on evil
times uniformly give birth, early Christianity, for instance, or the
socialism of Rousseau, may destroy a society, but they cannot save it
unless in conjunction with organising policy. A thorough appreciation
of fiscal and economic truths was at least as indispensable for the life
of the Roman Empire as the acceptance of a Messiah; and it was only in
the hands of a great statesman like Gregory VII. that Christianity
became at last an instrument powerful enough to save civilisation. What
the moral renovation of Rousseau did for France we all know. Now
Rousseau's was far more profoundly social than the doctrine of Mr.
Carlyle, which, while in name a renunciation of self, has all its
foundations in the purest individualism. Rousseau, notwithstanding the
method of _Emile_, treats man as a part of a collective whole,
contracting manifold relations and owing manifold duties; and he always
appeals to the love and sympathy which an imaginary God of nature has
implanted in the heart. His aim is unity. Mr. Carlyle, following the
same method of obedience to his own personal emotions, unfortified by
patient reasoning, lands at the other extremity, and lays all his stress
on the separatist instincts. The individual stands alone confronted by
the eternities; between these and his own soul exists the one central
relation. This has all the fundamental egotism of the doctrine of
personal salvation, emancipated from fable, and varnished with an
emotional phrase. The doctrine has been very widely interpreted, and
without any forcing, as a religious expression for the conditions of
commercial success.

If we look among our own countrymen, we find that the apostle of
self-renunciation is nowhere so beloved as by the best of those whom
steady self-reliance and thrifty self-securing and a firm eye to the
main chance have got successfully on in the world. A Carlylean
anthology, or volume of the master's sentences, might easily be
composed, that should contain the highest form of private liturgy
accepted by the best of the industrial classes, masters or men. They
forgive or overlook the writer's denunciations of Beaver Industrialisms,
which they attribute to his caprice or spleen. This is the worst of an
emotional teacher, that people take only so much as they please from
him, while with a reasoner they must either refute by reason, or else
they must accept by reason, and not at simple choice. When trade is
brisk, and England is successfully competing in the foreign markets, the
books that enjoin silence and self-annihilation have a wonderful
popularity in the manufacturing districts. This circumstance is
honourable both to them and to him, as far as it goes, but it furnishes
some reason for suspecting that our most vigorous moral reformer, so far
from propelling us in new grooves, has in truth only given new firmness
and coherency to tendencies that were strongly marked enough in the
national character before. He has increased the fervour of the country,
but without materially changing its objects; there is all the less
disguise among us as a result of his teaching, but no radical
modification of the sentiments which people are sincere in. The most
stirring general appeal to the emotions, to be effective for more than
negative purposes, must lead up to definite maxims and specific
precepts. As a negative renovation Mr. Carlyle's doctrine was perfect.
It effectually put an end to the mood of Byronism. May we say that with
the neutralisation of Byron, his most decisive and special work came to
an end? May we not say further, that the true renovation of England, if
such a process be ever feasible, will lie in a quite other method than
this of emotion? It will lie not in more moral earnestness only, but in
a more open intelligence; not merely in a more dogged resolution to work
and be silent, but in a ready willingness to use the understanding. The
poison of our sins, says Mr. Carlyle in his latest utterance, 'is not
intellectual dimness chiefly, but torpid unveracity of heart.' Yes, but
all unveracity, torpid or fervid, breeds intellectual dimness, and it is
this last which prevents us from seeing a way out of the present ignoble
situation. We need light more than heat; intellectual alertness, faith
in the reasoning faculty, accessibility to new ideas. To refuse to use
the intellect patiently and with system, to decline to seek scientific
truth, to prefer effusive indulgence of emotion to the laborious and
disciplined and candid exploration of new ideas, is not this, too, a
torpid unveracity? And has not Mr. Carlyle, by the impatience of his
method, done somewhat to deepen it?

It is very well to invite us to moral reform, to bring ourselves to be
of heroic mind, as the surest way to 'the blessed Aristocracy of the
Wisest.' But how shall we know the wisest when we see them, and how
shall a nation know, if not by keen respect and watchfulness for
intellectual truth and the teachers of it? Much as we may admire Mr.
Carlyle's many gifts, and highly as we may revere his character, it is
yet very doubtful whether anybody has as yet learnt from him the
precious lesson of scrupulosity and conscientiousness in actively and
constantly using the intelligence. This would have been the solid
foundation of the true hero-worship.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let thus much have been said on the head of temperament. The historic
position also of every writer is an indispensable key to many things in
his teaching.[5] We have to remember in Mr. Carlyle's case, that he was
born in the memorable year when the French Revolution, in its narrower
sense, was closed by the Whiff of Grape-shot, and when the great century
of emancipation and illumination was ending darkly in battles and
confusion. During his youth the reaction was in full flow, and the lamp
had been handed to runners who not only reversed the ideas and methods,
but even turned aside from the goal of their precursors. Hopefulness and
enthusiastic confidence in humanity when freed from the fetters of
spiritual superstition and secular tyranny, marked all the most
characteristic and influential speculations of the two generations
before '89. The appalling failure which attended the splendid attempt to
realise these hopes in a renewed and perfected social structure, had no
more than its natural effect in turning men's minds back, not to the
past of Rousseau's imagination, but to the past of recorded history. The
single epoch in the annals of Europe since the rise of Christianity, for
which no good word could be found, was the epoch of Voltaire. The
hideousness of the Christian church in the ninth and tenth centuries was
passed lightly over by men who had only eyes for the moral obliquity of
the church of the Encyclopædia. The brilliant but profoundly inadequate
essays on Voltaire and Diderot were the outcome in Mr. Carlyle of the
same reactionary spirit. Nobody now, we may suppose, who is competent to
judge, thinks that that estimate of 'the net product, of the tumultuous
Atheism' of Diderot and his fellow-workers, is a satisfactory account of
the influence and significance of the Encyclopædia; nor that to sum up
Voltaire, with his burning passion for justice, his indefatigable
humanity, his splendid energy in intellectual production, his righteous
hatred of superstition, as merely a supreme master of _persiflage_, can
be a process partaking of finality. The fact that to the eighteenth
century belong the subjects of more than half of these thirty volumes,
is a proof of the fascination of the period for an author who has never
ceased to vilipend it. The saying is perhaps as true in these matters as
of private relations, that hatred is not so far removed from love as
indifference is. Be that as it may, the Carlylean view of the eighteenth
century as a time of mere scepticism and unbelief, is now clearly
untenable to men who remember the fervour of Jean Jacques, and the more
rational, but not any less fervid faith of the disciples of
Perfectibility. But this was not so clear fifty years since, when the
crash and dust of demolition had not so subsided as to let men see how
much had risen up behind. The fire of the new school had been taken from
the very conflagration which they execrated, but they were not held back
from denouncing the eighteenth century by the reflection that, at any
rate, its thought and action had made ready the way for much of what is
best in the nineteenth.

[5] The dates of Mr. Carlyle's principal compositions are these:--_Life
of Schiller_, 1825; _Sartor Resartus_, 1831; _French Revolution_, 1837;
_Chartism_, 1839; _Hero-Worship_, 1840; _Past and Present_, 1843;
_Cromwell_, 1845; _Latter-Day Pamphlets_, 1850; _Friedrich the Second_,
1858-1865; _Shooting Niagara_, 1867.

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

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

In England, the greatest literary organ of the Revolution was
unquestionably Byron, whose genius, daring, and melodramatic
lawlessness, exercised what now seems such an amazing fascination over
the least revolutionary of European nations. Unfitted for scientific
work and full of ardour, Mr. Carlyle found his mission in rushing with
all his might to the annihilation of this terrible poet, who, like some
gorgon, hydra, or chimera dire planted at the gate, carried off a yearly
tale of youths and virgins from the city. In literature, only a
revolutionist can thoroughly overpower a revolutionist. Mr. Carlyle had
fully as much daring as Byron; his writing at its best, if without the
many-eyed minuteness and sustained pulsing force of Byron, has still the
full swell and tide and energy of genius: he is as lawless in his
disrespect for some things established. He had the unspeakable advantage
of being that which, though not in this sense, only his own favourite
word of contempt describes, respectable; and, for another thing, of
being ruggedly sincere. Carlylism is the male of Byronism. It is
Byronism with thew and sinew, bass pipe and shaggy bosom. There is the
same grievous complaint against the time and its men and its spirit,
something even of the same contemptuous despair, the same sense of the
puniness of man in the centre of a cruel and frowning universe; but
there is in Carlylism a deliverance from it all, indeed the only
deliverance possible. Its despair is a despair without misery. Labour in
a high spirit, duty done, and right service performed in fortitudinous
temper--here was, not indeed a way out, but a way of erect living
within.

Against Byronism the ordinary moralist and preacher could really do
nothing, because Byronism was an appeal that lay in the regions of the
mind only accessible by one with an eye and a large poetic feeling for
the infinite whole of things. It was not the rebellion only in
_Manfred_, nor the wit in _Don Juan_, nor the graceful melancholy of
_Childe Harold_, which made their author an idol, and still make him one
to multitudes of Frenchmen and Germans and Italians. One prime secret of
it is the air and spaciousness, the freedom and elemental grandeur of
Byron. Who has not felt this to be one of the glories of Mr. Carlyle's
work, that it, too, is large and spacious, rich with the fulness of a
sense of things unknown and wonderful, and ever in the tiniest part
showing us the stupendous and overwhelming whole? The magnitude of the
universal forces enlarges the pettiness of man, and the smallness of his
achievement and endurance takes a complexion of greatness from the
vague immensity that surrounds and impalpably mixes with it.

Remember further, that while in Byron the outcome of this was rebellion,
in Carlyle its outcome is reverence, a noble mood, which is one of the
highest predispositions of the English character. The instincts of
sanctification rooted in Teutonic races, and which in the corrupt and
unctuous forms of a mechanical religious profession are so revolting,
were mocked and outraged, where they were not superciliously ignored, in
every line of the one, while in the other they were enthroned under the
name of Worship, as the very key and centre of the right life. The
prophet who never wearies of declaring that 'only in bowing down before
the Higher does man feel himself exalted,' touched solemn organ notes,
that awoke a response from dim religious depths, never reached by the
stormy wailings of the Byronic lyre. The political side of the
reverential sentiment is equally conciliated, and the prime business of
individuals and communities pronounced to be the search after worthy
objects of this divine quality of reverence. While kings' cloaks and
church tippets are never spared, still less suffered to protect the
dishonour of ignoble wearers of them, the inadequateness of aggression
and demolition, the necessity of quiet order, the uncounted debt that we
owe to rulers and to all sorts of holy and great men who have given this
order to the world, all this brought repose and harmony into spirits
that the hollow thunders of universal rebellion against tyrants and
priests had worn into thinness and confusion. Again, at the bottom of
the veriest _frondeur_ with English blood in his veins, in his most
defiant moment there lies a conviction that after all something known as
common sense is the measure of life, and that to work hard is a
demonstrated precept of common sense. Carlylism exactly hits this and
brings it forward. We cannot wonder that Byronism was routed from the
field.

       *       *       *       *       *

It may have been in the transcendently firm and clear-eyed intelligence
of Goethe that Mr. Carlyle first found a responsive encouragement to the
profoundly positive impulses of his own spirit.[6] There is, indeed, a
whole heaven betwixt the serenity, balance, and bright composure of the
one, and the vehemence, passion, masterful wrath, of the other; and the
vast, incessant, exact inquisitiveness of Goethe finds nothing
corresponding to it in Mr. Carlyle's multitudinous contempt and
indifference, sometimes express and sometimes only very significantly
implied, for forms of intellectual activity that do not happen to be
personally congenial. But each is a god, though the one sits ever on
Olympus, while the other is as one from Tartarus. There is in each,
besides all else, a certain remarkable directness of glance, an
intrepid and penetrating quality of vision, which defies analysis.
Occasional turgidity of phrase and unidiomatic handling of language do
not conceal the simplicity of the process by which Mr. Carlyle pierces
through obstruction down to the abstrusest depths. And the important
fact is that this abstruseness is not verbal, any more than it is the
abstruseness of fog and cloud. His epithet, or image, or trope, shoots
like a sunbeam on to the matter, throwing a transfigurating light, even
where it fails to pierce to its central core.

[6] _Positive._ No English lexicon as yet seems to justify the use of
this word in one of the senses of the French _positif_, as when a
historian, for instance, speaks of the _esprit positif_ of Bonaparte. We
have no word, I believe, that exactly corresponds, so perhaps _positive_
with that significance will become acclimatised. A distinct and separate
idea of this particular characteristic is indispensable.

Eager for a firm foothold, yet wholly revolted by the too narrow and
unelevated positivity of the eighteenth century; eager also for some
recognition of the wide realm of the unknowable, yet wholly unsatisfied
by the transcendentalism of the English and Scotch philosophic
reactions; he found in Goethe that truly free and adequate positivity
which accepts all things as parts of a natural or historic order, and
while insisting on the recognition of the actual conditions of this
order as indispensable, and condemning attempted evasions of such
recognition as futile and childish, yet opens an ample bosom for all
forms of beauty in art, and for all nobleness in moral aspiration. That
Mr. Carlyle has reached this high ground we do not say. Temperament has
kept him down from it. But it is after this that he has striven. The
tumid nothingness of pure transcendentalism he has always abhorred. Some
of Mr. Carlyle's favourite phrases have disguised from his readers the
intensely practical turn of his whole mind. His constant presentation
of the Eternities, the Immensities, and the like, has veiled his almost
narrow adherence to plain record without moral comment, and his often
cynical respect for the dangerous, yet, when rightly qualified and
guided, the solid formula that What is, is. The Eternities and
Immensities are only a kind of awful background. The highest souls are
held to be deeply conscious of these vast unspeakable presences, yet
even with them they are only inspiring accessories; the true interest
lies in the practical attitude of such men towards the actual and
palpable circumstances that surround them. This spirituality, whose
place in Mr. Carlyle's teaching has been so extremely mis-stated, sinks
wholly out of sight in connection with such heroes as the coarse and
materialist Bonaparte, of whom, however, the hero-worshipper in earlier
pieces speaks with some laudable misgiving, and the not less coarse and
materialist Frederick, about whom no misgiving is permitted to the loyal
disciple. The admiration for military methods, on condition that they
are successful, for Mr. Carlyle, like Providence, is always on the side
of big and victorious battalions, is the last outcome of a devotion to
vigorous action and practical effect, which no verbal garniture of a
transcendental kind can hinder us from perceiving to be more purely
materialist and unfeignedly brutal than anything which sprung from the
reviled thought of the eighteenth century.

It is instructive to remark that another of the most illustrious
enemies of that century and all its works, Joseph de Maistre, had the
same admiration for the effectiveness of war, and the same extreme
interest and concern in the men and things of war. He, too, declares
that 'the loftiest and most generous sentiments are probably to be found
in the soldier;' and that war, if terrible, is divine and splendid and
fascinating, the manifestation of a sublime law of the universe. We
must, however, do De Maistre the justice to point out, first, that he
gave a measure of his strange interest in Surgery and Judgment, as Mr.
Carlyle calls it, to the public executioner, a division of the honours
of social surgery which is no more than fair; while, in the second
place, he redeems the brutality of the military surgical idea after a
fashion, by an extraordinary mysticism, which led him to see in war a
divine, inscrutable force, determining success in a manner absolutely
defying all the speculations of human reason.[7] The biographer of
Frederick apparently finds no inscrutable force at all, but only will,
tenacity, and powder kept dry. There is a vast difference between this
and the absolutism of the mystic.

[7] _Soirées de Saint Pétersbourg, 7ième entretien._

'Nature,' he says in one place, 'keeps silently a most exact
Savings-bank, and official register correct to the most evanescent item,
Debtor and Creditor, in respect to one and all of us; silently marks
down, Creditor by such and such an unseen act of veracity and heroism;
Debtor to such a loud blustery blunder, twenty-seven million strong or
one unit strong, and to all acts and words and thoughts executed in
consequence of that--Debtor, Debtor, Debtor, day after day, rigorously
as Fate (for this _is_ Fate that is writing); and at the end of the
account you will have it all to pay, my friend.'[8]

[8] _Latter-Day Pamphlets_, No. V. p. 247.

That is to say, there is a law of recompense for communities of men, and
as nations sow, even thus they reap. But what is Mr. Carlyle's account
of the precise nature and operation of this law? What is the original
distinction between an act of veracity and a blunder? Why was the blow
struck by the Directory on the Eighteenth Fructidor a blunder, and that
struck by Bonaparte on the Eighteenth Brumaire a veracity? What
principle of registration is that which makes Nature debtor to Frederick
the Second for the seizure of Silesia, and Bonaparte debtor to Nature
for 'trampling on the world, holding it tyrannously down?' It is very
well to tell us that 'Injustice pays itself with frightful compound
interest,' but there are reasons for suspecting that Mr. Carlyle's
definition of the just and the unjust are such as to reduce this and all
his other sentences of like purport to the level of mere truism and
repetition. If you secretly or openly hold that to be just and veracious
which is successful, then it needs no further demonstration that
penalties of ultimate failure are exacted for injustice, because it is
precisely the failure that constitutes the injustice.

This is the kernel of all that is most retrograde in Mr. Carlyle's
teaching. He identifies the physical with the moral order, confounds
faithful conformity to the material conditions of success, with loyal
adherence to virtuous rule and principle, and then appeals to material
triumph as the sanction of nature and the ratification of high heaven.
Admiring with profoundest admiration the spectacle of an inflexible
will, when armed with a long-headed insight into means and quantities
and forces as its instrument, and yet deeply revering the abstract ideal
of justice; dazzled by the methods and the products of iron resolution,
yet imbued with traditional affection for virtue; he has seen no better
way of conciliating both inclinations than by insisting that they point
in the same direction, and that virtue and success, justice and victory,
merit and triumph, are in the long run all one and the same thing. The
most fatal of confusions. Compliance with material law and condition
ensures material victory, and compliance with moral condition ensures
moral triumph; but then moral triumph is as often as not physical
martyrdom. Superior military virtues must unquestionably win the verdict
of Fate, Nature, Fact, and Veracity, on the battle-field, but what then?
Has Fate no other verdicts to record than these? and at the moment while
she writes Nature down debtor to the conqueror, may she not also have
written her down his implacable creditor for the moral cost of his
conquest?

The anarchy and confusion of Poland were an outrage upon political
conditions, which brought her to dependence and ruin. The manner of the
partition was an outrage on moral conditions, for which each of the
nations that profited by it paid in the lawlessness of Bonaparte. The
preliminaries of Léoben, again, and Campo-Formio were the key to
Waterloo and St. Helena. But Mr. Carlyle stops short at the triumph of
compliance with the conditions of material victory. He is content to
know that Frederick made himself master of Silesia, without considering
that the day of Jena loomed in front. It suffices to say that the whiff
of grape-shot on the Thirteenth Vendémiaire brought Sans-culottism to
order and an end, without measuring what permanent elements of disorder
were ineradicably implanted by resort to the military arm. Only the
failures are used to point the great historical moral, and if Bonaparte
had died in the Tuileries in all honour and glory, he would have ranked
with Frederick or Francia as a wholly true man. Mr. Carlyle would then
no more have declared the execution of Palm 'a palpable, tyrannous,
murderous injustice,' than he declares it of the execution of Katte or
Schlubhut. The fall of the traitor to fact, of the French monarchy, of
the windbags of the first Republic, of Charles I., is improved for our
edification, but then the other lesson, the failure of heroes like
Cromwell, remains isolated and incoherent, with no place in a morally
regulated universe. If the strength of Prussia now proves that Frederick
had a right to seize Silesia, and relieves us from inquiring further
whether he had any such right or not, why then should not the royalist
assume, from the fact of the restoration, and the consequent
obliteration of Cromwell's work, that the Protector was a usurper and a
phantasm captain?

Apart from its irreconcilableness with many of his most emphatic
judgments, Mr. Carlyle's doctrine about Nature's registration of the
penalties of injustice is intrinsically an anachronism. It is worse than
the Catholic reaction, because while De Maistre only wanted Europe to
return to the system of the twelfth century, Mr. Carlyle's theory of
history takes us back to times prehistoric, when might and right were
the same thing. It is decidedly natural that man in a state of nature
should take and keep as much as his skill and physical strength enable
him to do. But society and its benefits are all so much ground won from
nature and her state. The more natural a method of acquisition, the less
likely is it to be social. The essence of morality is the subjugation of
nature in obedience to social needs. To use Kant's admirable
description, concert _pathologically_ extorted by the mere necessities
of situation, is exalted into a _moral_ union. It is exactly in this
progressive substitution of one for the other that advancement consists,
that Progress of the Species at which, in certain of its forms, Mr.
Carlyle has so many gibes.

That, surely, is the true test of veracity and heroism in conduct. Does
your hero's achievement go in the pathological or the moral direction?
Does it tend to spread faith in that cunning, violence, force, which
were once primitive and natural conditions of life, and which will still
by natural law work to their own proper triumphs in so far as these
conditions survive, and within such limits, and in such sense, as they
permit; or, on the contrary, does it tend to heighten respect for civic
law, for pledged word, for the habit of self-surrender to the public
good, and for all those other ideas and sentiments and usages which have
been painfully gained from the sterile sands of egotism and selfishness,
and to which we are indebted for all the untold boons conferred by the
social union on man?

Viewed from this point, the manner of the achievement is as important as
is its immediate product, a consideration which it is one of Mr.
Carlyle's most marked peculiarities to take into small account.
Detesting Jesuitism from the bottom of his soul, he has been too willing
to accept its fundamental maxim, that the end justifies the means. He
has taken the end for the ratification or proscription of the means, and
stamped it as the verdict of Fate and Fact on the transaction and its
doer. A safer position is this, that the means prepare the end, and the
end is what the means have made it. Here is the limit of the true law of
the relations between man and fate. Justice and injustice in the law,
let us abstain from inquiring after.

There are two sets of relations which have still to be regulated in some
degree by the primitive and pathological principle of repression and
main force. The first of these concern that unfortunate body of criminal
and vicious persons, whose unsocial propensities are constantly
straining and endangering the bonds of the social union. They exist in
the midst of the most highly civilised communities, with all the
predatory or violent habits of barbarous tribes. They are the active and
unconquered remnant of the natural state, and it is as unscientific as
the experience of some unwise philanthropy has shown it to be
ineffective, to deal with them exactly as if they occupied the same
moral and social level as the best of their generation. We are amply
justified in employing towards them, wherever their offences endanger
order, the same methods of coercion which originally made society
possible. No tenable theory about free will or necessity, no theory of
praise and blame that will bear positive tests, lays us under any
obligation to spare either the comfort or the life of a man who indulges
in certain anti-social kinds of conduct. Mr. Carlyle has done much to
wear this just and austere view into the minds of his generation, and in
so far he has performed an excellent service.

The second set of relations in which the pathological element still so
largely predominates are those between nations. Separate and independent
communities are still in a state of nature. The tie between them is only
the imperfect, loose, and non-moral tie of self-interest and material
power. Many publicists and sentimental politicians are ever striving to
conceal this displeasing fact from themselves and others, and evading
the lesson of the outbreaks that now and again convulse the civilised
world. Mr. Carlyle's history of the rise and progress of the power of
the Prussian monarchy is the great illustration of the hold which he has
got of the conception of the international state as a state of nature;
and here again, in so far as he has helped to teach us to study the past
by historic methods, he has undoubtedly done laudable work.

Yet have we not to confess that there is another side to this kind of
truth, in both these fields? We may finally pronounce on a given way of
thinking, only after we have discerned its goal. Not knowing this, we
cannot accurately know its true tendency and direction. Now, every
recognition of the pathological necessity should imply a progress and
effort towards its conversion into moral relationship. The difference
between a reactionary and a truly progressive thinker or group of ideas
is not that the one assumes virtuousness and morality as having been the
conscious condition of international dealings, while the other asserts
that such dealings were the lawful consequence of self-interest and the
contest of material forces; nor is it that the one insists on viewing
international transactions from the same moral point which would be the
right one, if independent communities actually formed one stable and
settled family, while the other declines to view their morality at all.
The vital difference is, that while the reactionary writer rigorously
confines his faith within the region of facts accomplished, the other
anticipates a time when the endeavour of the best minds in the civilised
world, co-operating with every favouring external circumstance that
arises, shall have in the international circle raised moral
considerations to an ever higher and higher pre-eminence, and in
internal conditions shall have left in the chances and training of the
individual, ever less and less excuse or grounds for a predisposition to
anti-social and barbaric moods. This hopefulness, in some shape or
other, is an indispensable mark of the most valuable thought. To stop at
the soldier and the gibbet, and such order as they can furnish, is to
close the eyes to the entire problem of the future, and we may be sure
that what omits the future is no adequate nor stable solution of the
present.

Mr. Carlyle's influence, however, was at its height before this idolatry
of the soldier became a paramount article in his creed; and it is
devoutly to be hoped that not many of those whom he first taught to
seize before all things fact and reality, will follow him into this
torrid air, where only forces and never principles are facts, and where
nothing is reality but the violent triumph of arbitrarily imposed will.
There was once a better side to it all, when the injunction to seek and
cling to fact was a valuable warning not to waste energy and hope in
seeking lights which it is not given to man ever to find, with a solemn
assurance added that in frank and untrembling recognition of
circumstance the spirit of man may find a priceless, ever-fruitful
contentment. The prolonged and thousand-times repeated glorification of
Unconsciousness, Silence, Renunciation, all comes to this: We are to
leave the region of things unknowable, and hold fast to the duty that
lies nearest. Here is the Everlasting Yea. In action only can we have
certainty.

       *       *       *       *       *

The reticences of men are often only less full of meaning than their
most pregnant speech; and Mr. Carlyle's unbroken silence upon the modern
validity and truth of religious creeds says much. The fact that he
should have taken no distinct side in the great debate as to revelation,
salvation, inspiration, and the other theological issues that agitate
and divide a community where theology is now mostly verbal, has been the
subject of some comment, and has had the effect of adding one rather
peculiar side to the many varieties of his influence. Many in the
dogmatic stage have been content to think that as he was not avowedly
against them, he might be with them, and sacred persons have been known
to draw their most strenuous inspirations from the chief denouncer of
phantasms and exploded formulas. Only once, when speaking of Sterling's
undertaking the clerical burden, does he burst out into unmistakable
description of the old Jew stars that have now gone out, and wrath
against those who would persuade us that these stars are still aflame
and the only ones. That this reserve has been wise in its day, and has
most usefully widened the tide and scope of the teacher's popularity,
one need not dispute. There are conditions when indirect solvents are
most powerful, as there are others, which these have done much to
prepare, when no lover of truth will stoop to declarations other than
direct. Mr. Carlyle has assailed the dogmatic temper in religion, and
this is work that goes deeper than to assail dogmas.

Not even Comte himself has harder words for metaphysics than Mr.
Carlyle. 'The disease of Metaphysics' is perennial. Questions of Death
and Immortality, Origin of Evil, Freedom and Necessity, are ever
appearing and attempting to shape something of the universe. 'And ever
unsuccessfully: for what theorem of the Infinite can the Finite render
complete?... Metaphysical Speculation as it begins in No or Nothingness,
so it must needs end in nothingness; circulates and must circulate in
endless vortices; creating, swallowing--itself.'[9] Again, on the other
side, he sets his face just as firmly against the excessive pretensions
and unwarranted certitudes of the physicist. 'The course of Nature's
phases on this our little fraction of a Planet is partially known to us:
but who knows what deeper courses these depend on; what infinitely
larger Cycle (of causes) our little Epicycle revolves on? To the Minnow
every cranny and pebble, and quality and accident may have become
familiar; but does the Minnow understand the Ocean tides and periodic
Currents, the Trade-winds, and Monsoons, and Moon's Eclipses, by all
which the condition of its little Creek is regulated, and may, from time
to time (_un_-miraculously enough) be quite overset and reversed? Such a
minnow is Man; his Creek this Planet Earth; his Ocean the immeasurable
All; his Monsoons and periodic Currents the mysterious course of
Providence through Æons of Æons.'[10] The inalterable relativity of
human knowledge has never been more forcibly illustrated; and the two
passages together fix the limits of that knowledge with a sagacity truly
philosophic. Between the vagaries of mystics and the vagaries of
physicists lies the narrow land of rational certainty, relative,
conditional, experimental, from which we view the vast realm that
stretches out unknown before us, and perhaps for ever unknowable;
inspiring men with an elevated awe, and environing the interests and
duties of their little lives with a strange sublimity. 'We emerge from
the Inane; haste stormfully across the astonished Earth; then plunge
again into the Inane.... But whence? O Heaven, whither? Sense knows not;
Faith knows not; only that it is through Mystery to Mystery.'[11]

[9] 'Characteristics,' _Misc. Ess._, iii. pp. 356-358. Rousseau in the
same way makes the Savoyard Vicar declare that '_jamais le jargon de la
métaphysique n'a fait découvrir une seule vérité, et il a rempli la
philosophie d'absurdités dont on a honte, sitôt qu'on les dépouille de
leurs grands mots_.'--_Emile_, liv. iv.

[10] _Sartor Resartus_, bk. iii. ch. viii. p. 249.

[11] _Ib._ p. 257.

Natural Supernaturalism, the title of one of the cardinal chapters in
Mr. Carlyle's cardinal book, is perhaps as good a name as another for
this two-faced yet integral philosophy, which teaches us to behold with
cheerful serenity the great gulf which is fixed round our faculty and
existence on every side, while it fills us with that supreme sense of
countless unseen possibilities, and of the hidden, undefined movements
of shadow and light over the spirit, without which the soul of man falls
into hard and desolate sterility. In youth, perhaps, it is the latter
aspect of Mr. Carlyle's teaching which first touches people, because
youth is the time of indefinite aspiration; and it is easier, besides,
to surrender ourselves passively to these vague emotional impressions,
than to apply actively and contentedly to the duty that lies nearest,
and to the securing of 'that infinitesimallest product' on which the
teacher is ever insisting. It is the Supernaturalism which stirs men
first, until larger fulness of years and wider experience of life draw
them to a wise and not inglorious acquiescence in Naturalism. This last
is the mood which Mr. Carlyle never wearies of extolling and enjoining
under the name of Belief; and the absence of it, the inability to enter
into it, is that Unbelief which he so bitterly vituperates, or, in
another phrase, that Discontent, which he charges with holding the soul
in such desperate and paralysing bondage.

Indeed, what is it that Mr. Carlyle urges upon us but the search for
that Mental Freedom, which under one name or another has been the goal
and ideal of all highest minds that have reflected on the true
constitution of human happiness? His often enjoined Silence is the first
condition of this supreme kind of liberty, for what is silence but the
absence of a self-tormenting assertiveness, the freedom from excessive
susceptibility under the speech of others, one's removal from the
choking sandy wilderness of wasted words? Belief is the mood which
emancipates us from the paralysing dubieties of distraught souls, and
leaves us full possession of ourselves by furnishing an unshaken and
inexpugnable base for action and thought, and subordinating passion to
conviction. Labour, again, perhaps the cardinal article in the creed, is
at once the price of moral independence, and the first condition of that
fulness and accuracy of knowledge, without which we are not free, but
the bounden slaves of prejudice, unreality, darkness, and error. Even
Renunciation of self is in truth only the casting out of those
disturbing and masterful qualities which oppress and hinder the free,
natural play of the worthier parts of character. In renunciation we thus
restore to self its own diviner mind.

Yet we are never bidden either to strive or hope for a freedom that is
unbounded. Circumstance has fixed limits that no effort can transcend.
Novalis complained in bitter words, as we know, of the mechanical,
prosaic, utilitarian, cold-hearted character of _Wilhelm Meister_,
constituting it an embodiment of 'artistic Atheism,' while English
critics as loudly found fault with its author for being a mystic.
Exactly the same discrepancy is possible in respect of Mr. Carlyle's
own writings. In one sense he may be called mystic and transcendental,
in another baldly mechanical and even cold-hearted, just as Novalis
found Goethe to be in _Meister_. The latter impression is inevitable in
all who, like Goethe and like Mr. Carlyle, make a lofty acquiescence in
the positive course of circumstance a prime condition at once of wise
endeavour and of genuine happiness. The splendid fire and unmeasured
vehemence of Mr. Carlyle's manner partially veil the depth of this
acquiescence, which is really not so far removed from fatalism. The
torrent of his eloquence, bright and rushing as it is, flows between
rigid banks and over hard rocks. Devotion to the heroic does not prevent
the assumption of a tone towards the great mass of the unheroic, which
implies that they are no more than two-legged mill horses, ever treading
a fixed and unalterable round. He practically denies other consolation
to mortals than such as they may be able to get from the final and
conclusive Kismet of the oriental. It is fate. Man is the creature of
his destiny. As for our supposed claims on the heavenly powers: What
right, he asks, hadst thou even to be? Fatalism of this stamp is the
natural and unavoidable issue of a born positivity of spirit, uninformed
by scientific meditation. It exists in its coarsest and most childish
kind in adventurous freebooters of the type of Napoleon, and in a noble
and not egotistic kind in Oliver Cromwell's pious interpretation of the
order of events by the good will and providence of God.

Two conspicuous qualities of Carlylean doctrine flow from this fatalism,
or poetised utilitarianism, or illumined positivity. One of them is a
tolerably constant contempt for excessive nicety in moral distinctions,
and an aversion to the monotonous attitude of praise and blame. In a
country overrun and corroded to the heart, as Great Britain is, with
cant and a foul mechanical hypocrisy, this temper ought to have had its
uses in giving a much-needed robustness to public judgment. One might
suppose, from the tone of opinion among us, not only that the difference
between right and wrong marks the most important aspect of conduct,
which would be true; but that it marks the only aspect of it that
exists, or that is worth considering, which is most profoundly false.
Nowhere has Puritanism done us more harm than in thus leading us to take
all breadth, and colour, and diversity, and fine discrimination, out of
our judgments of men, reducing them to thin, narrow, and superficial
pronouncements upon the letter of their morality, or the precise
conformity of their opinions to accepted standards of truth, religious
or other. Among other evils which it has inflicted, this inability to
conceive of conduct except as either right or wrong, and,
correspondingly in the intellectual order, of teaching except as either
true or false, is at the bottom of that fatal spirit of _parti-pris_
which has led to the rooting of so much injustice, disorder, immobility,
and darkness in English intelligence. No excess of morality, we may be
sure, has followed this excessive adoption of the exclusively moral
standard. '_Quand il n'y a plus de principes dans le coeur_,' says De
Senancourt, '_on est bien scrupuleux sur les apparences publiques et sur
les devoirs d'opinion_.' We have simply got for our pains a most
unlovely leanness of judgment, and ever since the days when this temper
set in until now, when a wholesome rebellion is afoot, it has steadily
and powerfully tended to straiten character, to make action mechanical,
and to impoverish art. As if there were nothing admirable in a man save
unbroken obedience to the letter of the moral law, and that letter read
in our own casual and local interpretation; and as if we had no
faculties of sympathy, no sense for the beauty of character, no feeling
for broad force and full-pulsing vitality.

To study manners and conduct and men's moral nature in such a way, is as
direct an error as it would be to overlook in the study of his body
everything except its vertebral column and the bony framework. The body
is more than mere anatomy. A character is much else besides being
virtuous or vicious. In many of the characters in which some of the
finest and most singular qualities of humanity would seem to have
reached their furthest height, their morality was the side least worth
discussing. The same may be said of the specific rightness or wrongness
of opinion in the intellectual order. Let us condemn error or
immorality, when the scope of our criticism calls for this particular
function, but why rush to praise or blame, to eulogy or reprobation,
when we should do better simply to explore and enjoy? Moral
imperfection is ever a grievous curtailment of life, but many exquisite
flowers of character, many gracious and potent things, may still thrive
in the most disordered scene.

The vast waste which this limitation of prospect entails is the most
grievous rejection of moral treasure, if it be true that nothing
enriches the nature like wide sympathy and many-coloured
appreciativeness. To a man like Macaulay, for example, criticism was
only a tribunal before which men were brought to be decisively tried by
one or two inflexible tests, and then sent to join the sheep on the one
hand, or the goats on the other. His pages are the record of sentences
passed, not the presentation of human characters in all their fulness
and colour; and the consequence is that even now and so soon, in spite
of all their rhetorical brilliance, their hold on men has grown slack.
Contrast the dim depths into which his essay on Johnson is receding,
with the vitality as of a fine dramatic creation which exists in Mr.
Carlyle's essay on the same man. Mr. Carlyle knows as well as Macaulay
how blind and stupid a creed was English Toryism a century ago, but he
seizes and reproduces the character of his man, and this was much more
than a matter of a creed. So with Burns. He was drunken and unchaste and
thriftless, and Mr. Carlyle holds all these vices as deeply in
reprobation as if he had written ten thousand sermons against them; but
he leaves the fulmination to the hack moralist of the pulpit or the
press, with whom words are cheap, easily gotten, and readily thrown
forth. To him it seems better worth while, having made sure of some
sterling sincerity and rare genuineness of vision and singular human
quality, to dwell on, and do justice to that, than to accumulate
commonplaces as to the viciousness of vice. Here we may perhaps find the
explanation of the remarkable fact that though Mr. Carlyle has written
about a large number of men of all varieties of opinion and temperament,
and written with emphasis and point and strong feeling, yet there is
hardly one of these judgments, however much we may dissent from it,
which we could fairly put a finger upon as indecently absurd or futile.
Of how many writers of thirty volumes can we say the same?

That this broad and poetic temper of criticism has special dangers, and
needs to have special safeguards, is but too true. Even, however, if we
find that it has its excesses, we may forgive much to the merits of a
reaction against a system which has raised monstrous floods of sour cant
round about us, and hardened the hearts and parched the sympathies of
men by blasts from theological deserts. There is a point of view so
lofty and so peculiar that from it we are able to discern in men and
women something more than, and apart from, creed and profession and
formulated principle; which indeed directs and colours this creed and
principle as decisively as it is in its turn acted on by them, and this
is their character or humanity. The least important thing about Johnson
is that he was a Tory; and about Burns, that he drank too much and was
incontinent; and if we see in modern literature an increasing tendency
to mount to this higher point of view, this humaner prospect, there is
no living writer to whom we owe more for it than Mr. Carlyle. The same
principle which revealed the valour and godliness of Puritanism, has
proved its most efficacious solvent, for it places character on the
pedestal where Puritanism places dogma.

       *       *       *       *       *

The second of the qualities which seem to flow from Mr. Carlyle's
fatalism, and one much less useful among such a people as the English,
is a deficiency of sympathy with masses of men. It would be easy enough
to find places where he talks of the dumb millions in terms of fine and
sincere humanity, and his feeling for the common pathos of the human
lot, as he encounters it in individual lives, is as earnest and as
simple, as it is invariably lovely and touching in its expression. But
detached passages cannot counterbalance the effect of a whole compact
body of teaching. The multitude stands between Destiny on the one side,
and the Hero on the other; a sport to the first, and as potter's clay to
the second. _'Dogs, would ye then live for ever?_' Frederick is truly or
fabulously said to have cried to a troop who hesitated to attack a
battery vomiting forth death and destruction. This is a measure of Mr.
Carlyle's own valuation of the store we ought to set on the lives of the
most. We know in what coarse outcome such an estimate of the dignity of
other life than the life heroic has practically issued; in what
barbarous vindication of barbarous law-breaking in Jamaica, in what
inhuman softness for slavery, in what contemptuous and angry words for
'Beales and his 50,000 roughs,' contrasted with gentle words for our
precious aristocracy, with 'the politest and gracefullest kind of woman'
to wife. Here is the end of the Eternal Verities, when one lets them
bulk so big in his eyes as to shut out that perishable speck, the human
race.

'They seem to have seen, these brave old Northmen,' he says in one
place, 'what Meditation has taught all men in all ages, that this world
is after all but a show--a phenomenon or appearance, no real thing. All
deep souls see into that.'[12] Yes; but deep souls dealing with the
practical questions of society, do well to thrust the vision as far from
them as they can, and to suppose that this world is no show, and
happiness and misery not mere appearances, but the keenest realities
that we can know. The difference between virtue and vice, between wisdom
and folly, is only phenomenal, yet there is difference enough. 'What
_shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!_' Burke cried in the
presence of an affecting incident. Yet the consciousness of this made
him none the less careful, minute, patient, systematic, in examining a
policy, or criticising a tax. Mr. Carlyle, on the contrary, falls back
on the same reflection for comfort in the face of political confusions
and difficulties and details, which he has not the moral patience to
encounter scientifically. Unable to dream of swift renovation and wisdom
among men, he ponders on the unreality of life, and hardens his heart
against generations that will not know the things that pertain unto
their peace. He answers to one lifting up some moderate voice of protest
in favour of the masses of mankind, as his Prussian hero did: '_Ah, you
do not know that damned race!_'[13]

[12] _Hero-Worship_, p. 43.

[13] Carlyle's _Frederick_, vi. 363.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is no passage which Mr. Carlyle so often quotes as the sublime--

                  We are such stuff
  As dreams are made on; and our little life
  Is rounded with a sleep.

If the ever present impression of this awful, most moving, yet most
soothing thought, be a law of spiritual breadth and height, there is
still a peril in it. Such an impression may inform the soul with a
devout mingled sense of grandeur and nothingness, or it may blacken into
cynicism and antinomian living for self and the day. It may be a solemn
and holy refrain, sounding far off but clear in the dusty course of work
and duty; or it may be the comforting chorus of a diabolic drama of
selfishness and violence. As a reaction against religious theories which
make humanity over-abound in self-consequence, and fill individuals with
the strutting importance of creatures with private souls to save or
lose, even such cynicism as Byron's was wholesome and nearly
forgivable. Nevertheless, the most important question that we can ask of
any great teacher, as of the walk and conversation of any commonest
person, remains this--how far has he strengthened and raised the
conscious and harmonious dignity of humanity; how stirred in men and
women, many or few, deeper and more active sense of the worth and
obligation and innumerable possibilities, not of their own little lives,
one or another, but of life collectively; how heightened the
self-respect of the race? There is no need to plant oneself in a fool's
paradise, with no eye for the weakness of men, the futility of their
hopes, the irony of their fate, the dominion of the satyr and the tiger
in their hearts. Laughter has a fore-place in life. All this we may see
and show that we see, and yet so throw it behind the weightier facts of
nobleness and sacrifice, of the boundless gifts which fraternal union
has given, and has the power of giving, as to kindle in every breast,
not callous to exalted impressions, the glow of sympathetic endeavour,
and of serene exultation in the bond that makes 'precious the soul of
man to man.'

This renewal of moral energy by spiritual contact with the mass of men,
and by meditation on the destinies of mankind, is the very reverse of
Mr. Carlyle's method. With him, it is good to leave the mass, and fall
down before the individual, and be saved by him. The victorious hero is
the true Paraclete. 'Nothing so lifts a man from all his mean
imprisonments, were it but for moments, as true admiration.' And this
is really the kernel of the Carlylean doctrine. The whole human race
toils and moils, straining and energising, doing and suffering things
multitudinous and unspeakable under the sun, in order that like the
aloe-tree it may once in a hundred years produce a flower. It is this
hero that age offers to age, and the wisest worship him. Time and nature
once and again distil from out of the lees and froth of common humanity
some wondrous character, of a potent and reviving property hardly short
of miraculous. This the man who knows his own good cherishes in his
inmost soul as a sacred thing, an elixir of moral life. The Great Man is
'the light which enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the
world; a flowing light fountain, in whose radiance all souls feel that
it is well with them.' This is only another form of the anthropomorphic
conceptions of deity. The divinity of the ordinary hierophant is clothed
in the minds of the worshippers with the highest human qualities they
happen to be capable of conceiving, and this is the self-acting
machinery by which worship refreshes and recruits what is best in man.
Mr. Carlyle has another way. He carries the process a step further,
giving back to the great man what had been taken for beings greater than
any man, and summoning us to trim the lamp of endeavour at the shrine of
heroic chiefs of mankind. In that house there are many mansions, the
boisterous sanctuary of a vagabond polytheism. But each altar is
individual and apart, and the reaction of this isolation upon the
egotistic instincts of the worshipper has been only too evident. It is
good for us to build temples to great names which recall special
transfigurations of humanity; but it is better still, it gives a firmer
nerve to purpose and adds a finer holiness to the ethical sense, to
carry ever with us the unmarked, yet living tradition of the voiceless
unconscious effort of unnumbered millions of souls, flitting lightly
away like showers of thin leaves, yet ever augmenting the elements of
perfectness in man, and exalting the eternal contest.

Mr. Carlyle has indeed written that generation stands indissolubly woven
with generation; 'how we inherit, not Life only, but all the garniture
and form of Life, and work and speak, and even think and feel, as our
fathers and primeval grandfathers from the beginning have given it to
us;' how 'mankind is a living, indivisible whole.'[14] Even this,
however, with the 'literal communion of saints,' which follows in
connection with it, is only a detached suggestion, not incorporated with
the body of the writer's doctrine. It does not neutralise the general
lack of faith in the cultivable virtue of masses of men, nor the
universal tone of humoristic cynicism with which all but a little band,
the supposed salt of the earth, are treated. Man is for Mr. Carlyle, as
for the Calvinistic theologian, a fallen and depraved being, without
much hope, except for a few of the elect. The best thing that can happen
to the poor creature is that he should be thoroughly well drilled. In
other words, society does not really progress in its bulk; and the
methods which were conditions of the original formation and growth of
the social union, remain indispensable until the sound of the last
trump. Was there not a profound and far-reaching truth wrapped up in
Goethe's simple yet really inexhaustible monition, that if we would
improve a man, it were well to let him believe that we already think him
that which we would have him to be. The law that _noblesse oblige_ has
unwritten bearings in dealing with all men; all masses of men are
susceptible of an appeal from that point: for this Mr. Carlyle seems to
make no allowance.

[14] 'Organic Filaments' in the _Sartor_, bk. iii. ch. vii.

Every modification of society is one of the slow growths of time, and to
hurry impatiently after them by swift ways of military discipline and
peremptory law-making, is only to clasp the near and superficial good.
It is easy to make a solitude and call it peace, to plant an iron heel
and call it order. But read Mr. Carlyle's essay on Dr. Francia, and then
ponder the history of Paraguay for these later years and the accounts of
its condition in the newspapers of to-day. 'Nay, it may be,' we learn
from that remarkable piece, 'that the benefit of him is not even yet
exhausted, even yet entirely become visible. Who knows but, in unborn
centuries, Paragueno men will look back to their lean iron Francia, as
men do in such cases to the one veracious person, and institute
considerations?'[15] Who knows, indeed, if only it prove that their
lean iron Francia, in his passion for order and authority, did not stamp
out the very life of the nation? Where organic growths are concerned,
patience is the sovereign law; and where the organism is a society of
men, the vital principle is a sense in one shape or another of the
dignity of humanity. The recognition of this tests the distinction
between the truly heroic ruler of the stamp of Cromwell, and the
arbitrary enthusiast for external order like Frederick. Yet in more than
one place Mr. Carlyle accepts the fundamental principle of democracy.
'It is curious to consider now,' he says once, 'with what fierce,
deep-breathed doggedness the poor English Nation, drawn by their
instincts, held fast upon it [the Spanish War of Walpole's time, in
Jenkins' Ear Question], and would take no denial of it, as if they had
surmised and seen. For the instincts of simple, guileless persons
(liable to be counted stupid by the unwary) are sometimes of prophetic
nature, and spring from the deep places of this universe!'[16] If the
writer of this had only thought it out to the end, and applied the
conclusions thereof to history and politics, what a difference it would
have made.

[15] _Misc. Ess._ vi. 124.

[16] _Frederick_, iv. 390.

       *       *       *       *       *

No criticism upon either Mr. Carlyle or any other modern historian,
possessed of speculative quality, would be in any sense complete which
should leave out of sight his view of the manner and significance of the
break-up of the old European structure. The historian is pretty sure to
be guided in his estimate of the forces which have contributed to
dissolution in the past, by the kind of anticipation which he entertains
of the probable course of reconstruction. Like Comte, in his ideas of
temporal reconstruction, Mr. Carlyle goes back to something like the
forms of feudalism for the model of the industrial organisation of the
future; but in the spiritual order he is as far removed as possible from
any semblance of that revival of the old ecclesiastical forms without
the old theological ideas, which is the corner-stone of Comte's edifice.
To the question whether mankind gained or lost by the French Revolution,
Mr. Carlyle nowhere gives a clear answer; indeed, on this subject more
even than any other, he clings closely to his favourite method of simple
presentation, streaked with dramatic irony. No writer shows himself more
alive to the enormous moment to all Europe of that transaction; but we
hear no word from him on the question whether we have more reason to
bless or curse an event that interrupted, either subsequently to retard
or to accelerate, the transformation of the West from a state of war, of
many degrees of social subordination, of religious privilege, of
aristocratic administration, into a state of peaceful industry, of equal
international rights, of social equality, of free and equal tolerance of
creeds. That this process was going on prior to 1789 is undeniable. Are
we really nearer to the permanent establishment of the new order, for
what was done between 1789 and 1793? or were men thrown off the right
track of improvement by a movement which turned exclusively on abstract
rights, which dealt with men's ideas and habits as if they were
instantaneously pliable before the aspirations of any government, and
which by its violent and inconsiderate methods drove all these who
should only have been friends of order into being the enemies of
progress as well? There are many able and honest and republican men who
in their hearts suspect that the latter of the two alternatives is the
more correct description of what has happened. Mr. Carlyle is as one who
does not hear the question. He draws its general moral lesson from the
French Revolution, and with clangorous note warns all whom it concerns,
from king to churl, that imposture must come to an end. But for the
precise amount and kind of dissolution which the West owes to it, for
the political meaning of it, as distinguished from its moral or its
dramatic significance, we seek in vain, finding no word on the subject,
nor even evidence of consciousness that such word is needed.

The truth is that with Mr. Carlyle the Revolution begins not in 1789 but
in 1741; not with the Fall of the Bastile but with the Battle of
Mollwitz. This earliest of Frederick's victories was the first sign
'that indeed a new hour had struck on the Time Horologe, that a new
Epoch had arisen. Slumberous Europe, rotting amid its blind pedantries,
its lazy hypocrisies, conscious and unconscious: this man is capable of
shaking it a little out of its stupid refuges of lies and ignominious
wrappages, and of intimating to it afar off that there is still a
Veracity in Things, and a Mendacity in Sham Things,' and so forth, in
the well-known strain.[17] It is impossible to overrate the truly
supreme importance of the violent break-up of Europe which followed the
death of the Emperor Charles VI., and in many respects 1740 is as
important a date in the history of Western societies as 1789. Most of us
would probably find the importance of this epoch in its destructive
contribution, rather than in that constructive and moral quality which
lay under the movement of '89. The Empire was thoroughly shattered.
France was left weak, impoverished, humiliated. Spain was finally thrust
from among the efficient elements in the European State-system. Most
important of all, their too slight sanctity had utterly left the old
conceptions of public law and international right. The whole polity of
Europe was left in such a condition of disruption as had not been
equalled since the death of Charles the Great. The Partition of Poland
was the most startling evidence of the completeness of this disruption,
and if one statesman was more to be praised or blamed for shaking over
the fabric than another, that statesman was Frederick the Second of
Prussia. But then, in Mr. Carlyle's belief, there was equally a
constructive and highly moral side to all this. The old fell to pieces
because it was internally rotten. The gospel of the new was that the
government of men and kingdoms is a business beyond all others demanding
an open-eyed accessibility to all facts and realities; that here more
than anywhere else you need to give the tools to him who can handle
them; that government does by no means go on of itself, but more than
anything else in this world demands skill, patience, energy, long and
tenacious grip, and the constant presence of that most indispensable,
yet most rare, of all practical convictions, that the effect is the
inevitable consequent of the cause. Here was a revolution, we cannot
doubt. The French Revolution was in a manner a complement to it, as Mr.
Carlyle himself says in a place where he talks of believing both in the
French Revolution and in Frederick; 'that is to say both that Real
Kingship is eternally indispensable, and also that the destruction of
Sham Kingship (a frightful process) is occasionally so.'[18] It is
curious that an observer who could see the positive side of Frederick's
disruption of Europe in 1740, did not also see that there was a positive
side to the disruption of the French monarchy fifty years afterwards,
and that not only was a blow dealt to sham kingship, but a decisive
impulse was given to those ideas of morality and justice in government,
upon which only real kingship in whatever form is able to rest.

[17] _History of Frederick the Great_, iv. 328. See also vol. i., Proem.

[18] _Frederick the Great_, i. 9.

       *       *       *       *       *

As to the other great factor in the dissolution of the old state, the
decay of ancient spiritual forms, Mr. Carlyle gives no uncertain sound.
Of the Reformation, as of the French Revolution, philosophers have
doubted how far it really contributed to the stable progress of European
civilisation. Would it have been better, if it had been possible, for
the old belief gradually as by process of nature to fall to pieces, new
doctrine as gradually and as normally emerging from the ground of
disorganised and decayed convictions, without any of that frightful
violence which stirred men's deepest passions, and gave them a sinister
interest in holding one or other of the rival creeds in its most
extreme, exclusive, and intolerant form? This question Mr. Carlyle does
not see, or, if he does see it, he rides roughshod over it. Every reader
remembers the notable passage in which he declares that the question of
Protestant or not Protestant meant everywhere, 'Is there anything of
nobleness in you, O Nation, or is there nothing?' and that afterwards it
fared with nations as they did, or did not, accept this sixteenth
century form of Truth when it came.[19]

[19] _Frederick_, i. bk. iii. ch. viii. 269-274.

France, for example, is the conspicuous proof of what overtook the
deniers. 'France saw good to massacre Protestantism, and end it, in the
night of St. Bartholomew, 1572. The celestial apparitor of heaven's
chancery, so we may speak, the genius of Fact and Veracity, had left his
writ of summons; writ was read and replied to in this manner.' But let
us look at this more definitely. A complex series of historic facts do
not usually fit so neatly into the moral formula. The truth surely is
that while the anxieties and dangers of the Catholic party in France
increased after St. Bartholomew, whose dramatic horror has made its
historic importance to be vastly exaggerated, the Protestant cause
remained full of vitality, and the number of its adherents went on
increasing until the Edict of Nantes. It is eminently unreasonable to
talk of France seeing good to end Protestantism in a night, when we
reflect that twenty-six years after, the provisions of the Edict of
Nantes were what they were. 'By that Edict,' the historian tells us,
'the French Protestants, who numbered perhaps a tenth of the total
population, 2,000,000 out of 20,000,000, obtained absolute liberty of
conscience; performance of public worship in 3500 castles, as well as in
certain specified houses in each province; a State endowment equal to
£20,000 a year; civil rights equal in every respect to those of the
Catholics; admission to the public colleges, hospitals, etc.; finally,
eligibility to all offices of State.' It was this, and not the Massacre,
which was France's reply to the Genius of Fact and Veracity. Again, on
the other side, England accepted Protestantism, and yet Mr. Carlyle of
all men can hardly pretend, after his memorable deliverances in the
_Niagara_, that he thinks she has fared particularly well in
consequence.

The famous diatribe against Jesuitism in the _Latter-Day Pamphlets_,[20]
one of the most unfeignedly coarse and virulent bits of invective in the
language, points plumb in the same direction. It is grossly unjust,
because it takes for granted that Loyola and all Jesuits were
deliberately conscious of imposture and falsehood, knowingly embraced
the cause of Beelzebub, and resolutely propagated it. It is one thing to
judge a system in its corruption, and a quite other thing to measure the
worth and true design of its first founders; one thing to estimate the
intention and sincerity of a movement, when it first stirred the hearts
of men, and another thing to pass sentence upon it in the days of its
degradation. The vileness into which Jesuitism eventually sank is a poor
reason why we should malign and curse those who, centuries before, found
in the rules and discipline and aims of that system an acceptable
expression for their own disinterested social aspirations. It is
childish to say that the subsequent vileness is a proof of the existence
of an inherent corrupt principle from the beginning; because hitherto
certainly, and probably it will be so for ever, even the most salutary
movements and most effective social conceptions have been provisional.
In other words, the ultimate certainty of dissolution does not nullify
the beauty and strength of physical life, and the putrescence of Jesuit
methods and ideas is no more a reproach to those who first found succour
in them, than the cant and formalism of any other degenerate form of
active faith, say monachism or Calvinism, prove Calvin or Benedict or
Bernard to have been hypocritical and hollow. To be able, however, to
take this reasonable view, one must be unable to believe that men can
be drawn for generation after generation by such a mere hollow lie and
villainy and 'light of hell' as Jesuitism has always been, according to
Mr. Carlyle's rendering. Human nature is not led for so long by lies;
and if it seems to be otherwise, let us be sure that ideas which do lead
and attract successive generations of men to self-sacrifice and care for
social interests, must contain something which is not wholly a lie.

[20] No. VIII. pp. 353-371.

Perhaps it is pertinent to remember that Mr. Carlyle, in fact, is a
prophet with a faith, and he holds the opposition kind of religionist in
a peculiarly theological execration. In spite of his passion for order,
he cannot understand the political point of view. The attempts of good
men in epochs of disorder to remake the past, to bring back an old
spiritual system and method, because that did once at any rate give
shelter to mankind, and peradventure may give it to them again until
better times come, are phenomena into which he cannot look with calm or
patience. The great reactionist is a type that is wholly dark to him.
That a reactionist can be great, can be a lover of virtue and truth, can
in any sort contribute to the welfare of men, these are possibilities to
which he will lend no ear. In a word, he is a prophet and not a
philosopher, and it is fruitless to go to him for help in the solution
of philosophic problems. This is not to say that he may not render us
much help in those far more momentous problems which affect the guidance
of our own lives.





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