JOHN NICHOL, LL. D, M.A., BALLIOL, OXON
The following record of the leading events of Carlyle's life and attempt to estimate his genius rely on frequently renewed study of his work, on slight personal impressions—"vidi tantum"—and on information supplied by previous narrators. Of these the great author's chosen literary legatee is the most eminent and, in the main, the most reliable. Every critic of Carlyle must admit as constant obligations to Mr. Froude as every critic of Byron to Moore or of Scott to Lockhart. The works of these masters in biography remain the ample storehouses from which every student will continue to draw. Each has, in a sense, made his subject his own, and each has been similarly arraigned.
I must here be allowed to express a feeling akin to indignation at the persistent, often virulent, attacks directed against a loyal friend, betrayed, it may be, by excess of faith and the defective reticence that often belongs to genius, to publish too much about his hero. But Mr. Froude's quotation, in defence, from the essay on Sir Walter Scott requires no supplement: it should be remembered that he acted with explicit authority; that the restrictions under which he was at first entrusted with the MSS. of the Reminiscences and the Letters and Memorials (annotated by Carlyle himself, as if for publication) were withdrawn; and that the initial permission to select finally approached a practical injunction to communicate the whole. The worst that can be said is that, in the last years of Carlyle's career, his own judgment as to what should be made public of the details of his domestic life may have been somewhat obscured; but, if so, it was a weakness easily hidden from a devotee.
My acknowledgments are due to several of the Press comments which appeared shortly after Carlyle's death, more especially that of the St. James's Gazette, giving the most philosophical brief summary of his religious views which I have seen; and to the kindness of Dr. Eugene Oswald, President of the Carlyle Society, in supplying me with valuable hints on matters relating to German History and Literature. I have also to thank the Editor of the Manchester Guardian for permitting me to reproduce the substance of my article in its columns of February 1881. That article was largely based on a contribution on the same subject, in 1859, to Mackenzie's Imperial Dictionary of Biography.
I may add that in the distribution of material over the comparatively short space at my command, I have endeavoured to give prominence to facts less generally known, and passed over slightly the details of events previously enlarged on, as the terrible accident to Mrs. Carlyle and the incidents of her death. To her inner history I have only referred in so far as it had a direct bearing on her husband's life. As regards the itinerary of Carlyle's foreign journeys, it has seemed to me that it might be of interest to those travelling in Germany to have a short record of the places where the author sought his "studies" for his greatest work.
CHAPTER I INTRODUCTORY SUMMARY
CHAPTER II 1795-1826 ECCLEFECHAN AND EDINBURGH
CHAPTER III 1826-1834 CRAIGENPUTTOCK (from Marriage to London)
CHAPTER IV 1834-1842 CHEYNE ROW—(To death of Mrs. Welsh)
CHAPTER V 1842-1853 CHEYNE ROW—(To death of Carlyle's Mother)
CHAPTER VI 1853-1866 THE MINOTAUR—(To death of Mrs. Carlyle)
CHAPTER VII 1866-1881 DECADENCE
CHAPTER VIII CARLYLE AS MAN OF LETTERS, CRITIC, AND HISTORIAN
CHAPTER IX CARLYLE'S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
CHAPTER X ETHICS—PREDECESSORS—INFLUENCE
APPENDIX ON CARLYLE'S RELIGION
Four Scotchmen, born within the limits of the same hundred years, all in the first rank of writers, if not of thinkers, represent much of the spirit of four successive generations. They are leading links in an intellectual chain.
DAVID HUME (1711-1776) remains the most salient type in our island of the scepticism, half conservative, half destructive, but never revolutionary, which marked the third quarter of the eighteenth century. He had some points of intellectual contact with Voltaire, though substituting a staid temper and passionless logic for the incisive brilliancy of a mocking Mercury; he had no relation, save an unhappy personal one, to Rousseau.
ROBERT BURNS (1759-1796), last of great lyrists inspired by a local genius, keenest of popular satirists, narrative poet of the people, spokesman of their higher as of their lower natures, stood on the verge between two eras. Half Jacobite, nursling of old minstrelsy, he was also half Jacobin, an early-born child of the upheaval that closed the century; as essentially a foe of Calvinism as Hume himself. Master musician of his race, he was, as Thomas Campbell notes, severed, for good and ill, from his fellow Scots, by an utter want of their protecting or paralysing caution.
WALTER SCOTT (1771-1832), broadest and most generous, if not loftiest of the group—"no sounder piece of British manhood," says Carlyle himself in his inadequate review, "was put together in that century"—the great revivalist of the mediaeval past, lighting up its scenes with a magic glamour, the wizard of northern tradition, was also, like Burns, the humorist of contemporary life. Dealing with Feudal themes, but in the manner of the Romantic school, he was the heir of the Troubadours, the sympathetic peer of Byron, and in his translation of Goetz von Berlichingen he laid the first rafters of our bridge to Germany.
THOMAS CARLYLE (1795-1881) is on the whole the strongest, though far from the finest spirit of the age succeeding—an age of criticism threatening to crowd creation out, of jostling interests and of surging streams, some of which he has striven to direct, more to stem. Even now what Mill twenty-five years ago wrote of Coleridge is still true of Carlyle: "The reading public is apt to be divided between those to whom his views are everything and those to whom they are nothing." But it is possible to extricate from a mass of often turbid eloquence the strands of his thought and to measure his influence by indicating its range.
Travellers in the Hartz, ascending the Brocken, are in certain atmospheres startled by the apparition of a shadowy figure,—a giant image of themselves, thrown on the horizon by the dawn. Similar is the relation of Carlyle to the common types of his countrymen. Burns, despite his perfervid patriotism, was in many ways "a starry stranger." Carlyle was Scotch to the core and to the close, in every respect a macrocosm of the higher peasant class of the Lowlanders. Saturated to the last with the spirit of a dismissed creed, he fretted in bonds from which he could never get wholly free. Intrepid, independent, steadfast, frugal, prudent, dauntless, he trampled on the pride of kings with the pride of Lucifer. He was clannish to excess, painfully jealous of proximate rivals, self-centred if not self-seeking, fired by zeal and inflamed by almost mean emulations, resenting benefits as debts, ungenerous—with one exception, that of Goethe,—to his intellectual creditors; and, with reference to men and manners around him at variance with himself, violently intolerant. He bore a strange relation to the great poet, in many ways his predecessor in influence, whom with persistent inconsistency he alternately eulogised and disparaged, the half Scot Lord Byron. One had by nature many affinities to the Latin races, the other was purely Teutonic: but the power of both was Titanic rather than Olympian; both were forces of revolution; both protested, in widely different fashion, against the tendency of the age to submerge Individualism; both were to a large extent egoists: the one whining, the other roaring, against the "Philistine" restraints of ordinary society. Both had hot hearts, big brains, and an exhaustless store of winged and fiery words; both were wrapt in a measureless discontent, and made constant appeal against what they deemed the shallows of Optimism; Carlylism is the prose rather than "the male of Byronism." The contrasts are no less obvious: the author of Sartor Resartus, however vaguely, defended the System of the Universe; the author of Cain, with an audacity that in its essence went beyond that of Shelley, arraigned it. In both we find vehemence and substantial honesty; but, in the one, there is a dominant faith, tempered by pride, in the "caste of Vere de Vere," in Freedom for itself—a faith marred by shifting purposes, the garrulous incontinence of vanity, and a broken life; in the other unwavering belief in Law. The record of their fame is diverse. Byron leapt into the citadel, awoke and found himself the greatest inheritor of an ancient name. Carlyle, a peasant's son, laid slow siege to his eminence, and, only after outliving twice the years of the other, attained it. His career was a struggle, sterner than that of either Johnson or Wordsworth, from obscurity, almost from contempt, to a rarely challenged renown. Fifty years ago few "so poor to do him reverence": at his death, in a sunset storm of praise, the air was full of him, and deafening was the Babel of the reviews; for the progress of every original thinker is accompanied by a stream of commentary that swells as it runs till it ends in a dismal swamp of platitude. Carlyle's first recognition was from America, his last from his own countrymen. His teaching came home to their hearts "late in the gloamin'." In Scotland, where, for good or ill, passions are in extremes, he was long howled down, lampooned, preached at, prayed for: till, after his Edinburgh Inaugural Address, he of a sudden became the object of an equally blind devotion; and was, often by the very men who had tried and condemned him for blasphemy, as senselessly credited with essential orthodoxy. "The stone which the builders rejected became the headstone of the corner," the terror of the pulpit its text. Carlyle's decease was marked by a dirge of rhapsodists whose measureless acclamations stifled the voice of sober criticism. In the realm of contemporary English prose he has left no adequate successor; [Footnote: The nearest being the now foremost prose writers of our time, Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Froude.] the throne that does not pass by primogeniture is vacant, and the bleak northern skies seem colder and grayer since that venerable head was laid to rest by the village churchyard, far from the smoke and din of the great city on whose streets his figure was long familiar and his name was at last so honoured.
Carlyle first saw the world tempest-tossed by the events he celebrates in his earliest History. In its opening pages, we are made to listen to the feet and chariots of "Dubarrydom" hurrying from the "Armida Palace," where Louis XV. and the ancien regime lay dying; later to the ticking of the clocks in Launay's doomed Bastile; again to the tocsin of the steeples that roused the singers of the Marseillaise to march from "their bright Phocaean city" and grapple with the Swiss guard, last bulwark of the Bourbons. "The Swiss would have won," the historian characteristically quotes from Napoleon, "if they had had a commander." Already, over little more than the space of the author's life—for he was a contemporary of Keats, born seven months before the death of Burns, Shelley's junior by three, Scott's by twenty-four, Byron's by seven years—three years after Goethe went to feel the pulse of the "cannon-fever" at Argonne—already these sounds are across a sea. Two whole generations have passed with the memory of half their storms. "Another race hath been, and other palms are won." Old policies, governments, councils, creeds, modes and hopes of life have been sifted in strange fires. Assaye, Trafalgar, Austerlitz, Jena, Leipzig, Inkermann, Sadowa,—Waterloo when he was twenty and Sedan when he was seventy-five,—have been fought and won. Born under the French Directory and the Presidency of Washington, Carlyle survived two French empires, two kingdoms, and two republics; elsewhere partitions, abolitions, revivals and deaths of States innumerable. During his life our sway in the East doubled its area, two peoples (the German with, the Italian without, his sympathy) were consolidated on the Continent, while another across the Atlantic developed to a magnitude that amazes and sometimes alarms the rest. Aggressions were made and repelled, patriots perorated and fought, diplomatists finessed with a zeal worthy of the world's most restless, if not its wisest, age. In the internal affairs of the leading nations the transformation scenes were often as rapid as those of a pantomime. The Art and Literature of those eighty-six years—stirred to new thought and form at their commencement by the so-called Romantic movement, more recently influenced by the Classic reaction, the Pre-Raphaelite protest, the Aesthetic mode,—followed various, even contradictory, standards. But, in one line of progress, there was no shadow of turning. Over the road which Bacon laid roughly down and Newton made safe for transit, Physical Science, during the whole period, advanced without let and beyond the cavil of ignorance. If the dreams of the New Atlantis have not even in our days been wholly realised, Science has been brought from heaven to earth, and the elements made ministers of Prospero's wand. This apparent, and partially real, conquest of matter has doubtless done much to "relieve our estate," to make life in some directions run more smoothly, and to multiply resources to meet the demands of rapidly-increasing multitudes: but it is in danger of becoming a conquest of matter over us; for the agencies we have called into almost fearful activity threaten, like Frankenstein's miscreated goblin, to beat us down to the same level. Sanguine spirits who
throw out acclamations of self-thanking, self-admiring, With, at every mile run taster, O the wondrous, wondrous age,
are apt to forget that the electric light can do nothing to dispel the darkness of the mind; that there are strict limits to the power of prosperity to supply man's wants or satisfy his aspirations. This is a great part of Carlyle's teaching. It is impossible, were it desirable, accurately to define his religious, social, or political creed. He swallows formulae with the voracity of Mirabeau, and like Proteus escapes analysis. No printed labels will stick to him: when we seek to corner him by argument he thunders and lightens. Emerson complains that he failed to extract from him a definite answer about Immortality. Neither by syllogism nor by crucible could Bacon himself have made the "Form" of Carlyle to confess itself. But call him what we will—essential Calvinist or recalcitrant Neologist, Mystic, Idealist, Deist or Pantheist, practical Absolutist, or "the strayed reveller" of Radicalism—he is consistent in his even bigoted antagonism to all Utilitarian solutions of the problems of the world. One of the foremost physicists of our time was among his truest and most loyal friends; they were bound together by the link of genius and kindred political views; and Carlyle was himself an expert in mathematics, the mental science that most obviously subserves physical research: but of Physics themselves (astronomy being scarcely a physical science) his ignorance was profound, and his abusive criticisms of such men as Darwin are infantile. This intellectual defect, or rather vacuum, left him free to denounce material views of life with unconditioned vehemence. "Will the whole upholsterers," he exclaims in his half comic, sometimes nonsensical, vein, "and confectioners of modern Europe undertake to make one single shoeblack happy!" And more seriously of the railways, without whose noisy aid he had never been able to visit the battle-fields of Friedrich II.—
Our stupendous railway miracles I have stopped short in admiring.... The distances of London to Aberdeen, to Ostend, to Vienna, are still infinitely inadequate to me. Will you teach me the winged flight through immensity, up to the throne dark with excess of bright? You unfortunate, you grin as an ape would at such a question: you do not know that unless you can reach thither in some effectual most veritable sense, you are lost, doomed to Hela's death-realm and the abyss where mere brutes are buried. I do not want cheaper cotton, swifter railways; I want what Novalis calls "God, Freedom, and Immortality." Will swift railways and sacrifices to Hudson help me towards that?
The ECONOMIC AND MECHANICAL SPIRIT of the age, faith in mere steel or stone, was one of Carlyle's red rags. The others were INSINCERITY in Politics and in Life, DEMOCRACY without Reverence, and PHILANTHROPY without Sense. In our time these two last powers have made such strides as to threaten the Reign of Law. The Democrat without a ruler, who protests that one man is by nature as good as another, according to Carlyle is "shooting Niagara." In deference to the mandate of the philanthropist the last shred of brutality, with much of decision, has vanished from our code. Sentiment is in office and Mercy not only tempers, but threatens to gag Justice. When Sir Samuel Romilly began his beneficent agitation, and Carlyle was at school, talkers of treason were liable to be disembowelled before execution; now the crime of treason is practically erased, and the free use of dynamite brings so-called reforms "within the range of practical politics." Individualism was still a mark of the early years of the century. The spirit of "L'Etat c'est moi" survived in Mirabeau's "never name to me that bete of a word 'impossible';" in the first Napoleon's threat to the Austrian ambassador, "I will break your empire like this vase"; in Nelson turning his blind eye to the signal of retreat at Copenhagen, and Wellington fencing Torres Vedras against the world: it lingered in Nicholas the Czar, and has found perhaps its latest political representative in Prince Bismarck.
This is the spirit to which Carlyle has always given his undivided sympathy. He has held out hands to Knox, Francia, Friedrich, to the men who have made manners, not to the manners which have made men, to the rulers of people, not to their representatives: and the not inconsiderable following he has obtained is the most conspicuous tribute to a power resolute to pull against the stream. How strong its currents may be illustrated by a few lines from our leading literary journal, the Athenaeum, of the Saturday after his death :—
"The future historian of the century will have to record the marvellous fact that while in the reign of Queen Victoria there was initiated, formulated, and methodised an entirely new cosmogony, its most powerful and highly-gifted man of letters was preaching a polity and a philosophy of history that would have better harmonised with the time of Queen Semiramis. . . . Long before he launched his sarcasms at human progress, there had been a conviction among thinkers that it was not the hero that developed the race, but a deep mysterious energy in the race that produced the hero; that the wave produced the bubble, and not the bubble the wave. But the moment a theory of evolution saw the light it was a fact. The old cosmogony, on which were built Sartor Resartus and the Calvinism of Ecclefechan, were gone. Ecclefechan had declared that the earth did not move; but it moved nevertheless. The great stream of modern thought has advanced; the theory of evolution has been universally accepted; nations, it is acknowledged, produce kings, and kings are denied the faculty of producing nations."
Taliter, qualiter; but one or two remarks on the incisive summary of this adroit and able theorist are obvious. First, the implied assertion,—"Ecclefechan had declared that the earth did not move,"—that Carlyle was in essential sympathy with the Inquisitors who confronted Galileo with the rack, is perhaps the strangest piece of recent criticism extant: for what is his French Revolution but a cannonade in three volumes, reverberating, as no other book has done, a hurricane of revolutionary thought and deed, a final storming of old fortresses, an assertion of the necessity of movement, progress, and upheaval? Secondly, every new discovery is apt to be discredited by new shibboleths, and one-sided exaggerations of its range. It were platitude to say that Mr. Darwin was not only an almost unrivalled student of nature, as careful and conscientious in his methods, as fearless in stating his results, but—pace Mr. Carlyle—a man of genius, who has thrown Hoods of light on the inter-relations of the organic world. But there are whole troops of serfs, "addicti jururo in verba magistri," who, accepting, without attempt or capacity to verify the conclusions of the master mind, think to solve all the mysteries of the universe by ejaculating the word "Evolution." If I ask what was the secret of Dante's or of Shakespeare's divining rod, and you answer "Evolution," 'tis as if, when sick in heart and sick in head, I were referred, as medicine for "a mind diseased," to Grimm's Law or to the Magnetic Belt.
Let us grant that Caesar was evolved from the currents in the air about the Roman Capitol, that Marcus Aurelius was a blend of Plato and Cleanthes, Charlemagne a graft of Frankish blood on Gallic soil, William I. a rill from Rollo filtered in Neustrian fields, Hildebrand a flame from the altar of the mediaeval church, Barbarossa a plant grown to masterdom in German woods, or later—not to heap up figures whose memories still possess the world—that Columbus was a Genoan breeze, Bacon a rechauffe of Elizabethan thought, Orange the Silent a Dutch dyke, Chatham the frontispiece of eighteenth-century England, or Corsican Buonaparte the "armed soldier of Democracy." These men, at all events, were no bubbles on the froth of the waves which they defied and dominated.
So much, and more, is to be said for Carlyle's insistence that great men are creators as well as creatures of their age. Doubtless, as we advance in history, direct personal influence, happily or unhappily, declines. In an era of overwrought activity, of superficial, however free, education, when we run the risk of being associated into nothingness and criticised to death, it remains a question whether, in the interests of the highest civilisation (which means opportunity for every capable citizen to lead the highest life), the subordination of the one to the many ought to be accelerated or retarded. It is said that the triumph of Democracy is a mere "matter of time." But time is in this case of the essence of the matter, and the party of resistance will all the more earnestly maintain that the defenders should hold the forts till the invaders have become civilised. "The individual withers and the world is more and more," preludes, though over a long interval, the cynic comment of the second "Locksley Hall" on the "increasing purpose" of the age. At an earlier date "Luria" had protested against the arrogance of mere majorities.
A people is but the attempt of many To rise to the completer life of one; And those who live as models to the mass Are singly of more value than they all.
Carlyle set these notes to Tennyson and to Browning in his Hero-Worship—a creed, though in thought, and more in action, older than Buddha or than Achilles, which he first launched as a dogma on our times, clenching it with the asseveration that on two men, Mirabeau and Napoleon, mainly hung the fates of the most nominally levelling of Revolutions. The stamp his teaching made remains marked on the minds of the men of light who lead, and cannot be wholly effaced by the clamour of the men of words who orate. If he leans unduly to the exaltation of personal power, Carlyle is on the side of those whose defeat can be beneficent only if it be slow. Further to account for his attitude, we must refer to his life and to its surroundings, i.e. to the circumstances amid which he was "evolved."
ECCLEFECHAN AND EDINBURGH
In the introduction to one of his essays, Carlyle has warned us against giving too much weight to genealogy: but all his biographies, from the sketch of the Riquetti kindred to his full-length Friedrich, prefaced by two volumes of ancestry, recognise, if they do not overrate, inherited influences; and similarly his fragments of autobiography abound in suggestive reference. His family portraits are to be accepted with the deductions due to the family fever that was the earliest form of his hero-worship. Carlyle, says the Athenaeum critic before quoted, divides contemporary mankind into the fools and the wise: the wise are the Carlyles, the Welshes, the Aitkens, and Edward Irving; the fools all the rest of unfortunate mortals: a Fuseli stroke of the critic rivalling any of the author criticised; yet the comment has a grain of truth.
[Footnote: Even the most adverse critics of Carlyle are often his imitators, their hands taking a dye from what they work in.]
The Carlyles are said to have come, from the English town somewhat differently spelt, to Annandale, with David II.; and, according to a legend which the great author did not disdain to accept, among them was a certain Lord of Torthorwald, so created for defences of the Border. The churchyard of Ecclefechan is profusely strewn with the graves of the family, all with coats of arms—two griffins with adders' stings. More definitely we find Thomas, the author's grandfather, settled in that dullest of county villages as a carpenter. In 1745 he saw the rebel Highlanders on their southward march: he was notable for his study of Anson's Voyages and of the Arabian Nights: "a fiery man, his stroke as ready as his word; of the toughness and springiness of steel; an honest but not an industrious man;" subsequently tenant of a small farm, in which capacity he does not seem to have managed his affairs with much effect; the family were subjected to severe privations, the mother having, on occasion, to heat the meal into cakes by straw taken from the sacks on which the children slept. In such an atmosphere there grew and throve the five sons known as the five fighting masons—"a curious sample of folks," said an old apprentice of one of them, "pithy, bitter speaking bodies, and awfu' fighters." The second of the group, James, born 1757, married—first, a full cousin, Janet Carlyle (the sole issue of which marriage was John, who lived at Cockermouth); second, Margaret Aitken, by whom he had four sons—THOMAS, 1795-1881; Alexander, 1797-1876; John (Dr. Carlyle, translator of Dante), 1801-1879; and James, 1805-1890; also five daughters, one of whom, Jane, became the wife of her cousin James Aitken of Dumfries, and the mother of Mary, the niece who tended her famous uncle so faithfully during the last years of his life. Nowhere is Carlyle's loyalty to his race shown in a fairer light than in the first of the papers published under the name of Reminiscences. It differs from the others in being of an early date and free from all offence. From this pathetic sketch, written when on a visit to London in 1832 he had sudden news of his father's death, we may, even in our brief space, extract a few passages which throw light on the characters, i.e. the points of contact and contrast of the writer and his theme:—
In several respects I consider my father as one of the most interesting men I have known, ... of perhaps the very largest natural endowment of any it has been my lot to converse with. None of you will ever forget that bold glowing style of his, flowing free from his untutored soul, full of metaphors (though he knew not what a metaphor was), with all manner of potent words.... Nothing did I ever hear him undertake to render visible which did not become almost ocularly so. Emphatic I have heard him beyond all men. In anger he had no need of oaths: his words were like sharp arrows that smote into the very heart. The fault was that he exaggerated (which tendency I also inherit), yet in description, and for the sake chiefly of humorous effect. He was a man of rigid, even scrupulous veracity.... He was never visited with doubt. The old Theorem of the Universe was sufficient for him ... he stood a true man, while his son stands here on the verge of the new.... A virtue he had which I should learn to imitate: he never spoke of what was disagreeable and past. His was a healthy mind. He had the most open contempt for all "clatter."... He was irascible, choleric, and we all dreaded his wrath, but passion never mastered him.... Man's face he did not fear: God he always feared. His reverence was, I think, considerably mixed with fear—rather awe, as of unutterable depths of silence through which flickered a trembling hope.... Let me learn of him. Let me write my books as he built his houses, and walk as blamelessly through this shadow world.... Though genuine and coherent, living and life-giving, he was nevertheless but half developed. We had all to complain that we durst not freely love him. His heart seemed as if walled in: he had not the free means to unbosom himself.... It seemed as if an atmosphere of fear repelled us from him. To me it was especially so. Till late years I was ever more or less awed and chilled by him.
James Carlyle has been compared to the father of Burns. The failings of both leant to virtue's side, in different ways. They were at one in their integrity, independence, fighting force at stress, and their command of winged words; but the elder had a softer heart, more love of letters, a broader spirit; the younger more power to stem adverse tides, he was a better man of business, made of tougher clay, and a grimmer Calvinist. "Mr. Lawson," he writes in 1817, "is doing very well, and has given us no more paraphrases." He seems to have grown more rigid as he aged, under the narrowing influences of the Covenanting land; but he remained stable and compact as the Auldgarth Bridge, built with his own hands. James Carlyle hammered on at Ecclefechan, making in his best year L100, till, after the first decade of the century, the family migrated to Mainhill, a bleak farm two miles from Lockerbie, where he so throve by work and thrift that he left on his death in 1832 about L1000. Strong, rough, and eminently straight, intolerant of contradiction and ready with words like blows, his unsympathetic side recalls rather the father of the Brontes on the wild Yorkshire moor than William Burness by the ingle of Mount Oliphant. Margaret Carlyle was in theological theory as strict as her husband, and for a time made more moan over the aberrations of her favourite son. Like most Scotch mothers of her rank, she had set her heart on seeing him in a pulpit, from which any other eminence seemed a fall; but she became, though comparatively illiterate, having only late in life learnt to write a letter, a student of his books. Over these they talked, smoking together in old country fashion by the hearth; and she was to the last proud of the genius which grew in large measure under the unfailing sunshine of her anxious love.
Book II. of Sartor is an acknowledged fragment of autobiography, mainly a record of the author's inner life, but with numerous references to his environment. There is not much to identify the foster parents of Teufelsdroeckh, and the dramatic drollery of the child's advent takes the place of ancestry: Entepfuhl is obviously Ecclefechan, where the ducks are paddling in the ditch that has to pass muster for a stream, to-day as a century gone: the severe frugality which (as in the case of Wordsworth and Carlyle himself) survived the need for it, is clearly recalled; also the discipline of the Roman-like domestic law, "In an orderly house, where the litter of children's sports is hateful, your training is rather to bear than to do. I was forbid much, wishes in any measure bold I had to renounce; everywhere a strait bond of obedience inflexibly held me down. It was not a joyful life, yet ... a wholesome one." The following oft-quoted passage is characteristic of his early love of nature and the humorous touches by which he was wont to relieve his fits of sentiment:—
On fine evenings I was wont to carry forth my supper (bread crumb boiled in milk) and eat it out of doors. On the coping of the wall, which I could reach by climbing, my porringer was placed: there many a sunset have I, looking at the distant mountains, consumed, not without relish, my evening meal. Those hues of gold and azure, that hush of world's expectation as day died, were still a Hebrew speech for me: nevertheless I was looking at the fair illumined letters, and had an eye for the gilding.
In all that relates to the writer's own education, the Dichtung of Sartor and the Wahrheit of the Reminiscences are in accord. By Carlyle's own account, an "insignificant portion" of it "depended on schools." Like Burns, he was for some years trained in his own parish, where home influences counted for more than the teaching of not very competent masters. He soon read eagerly and variously. At the age of seven he was, by an Inspector of the old order, reported to be "complete in English." In his tenth year (1805) he was sent to the Grammar School of Annan, the "Hinterschlag Gymnasium," where his "evil days" began. Every oversensitive child finds the life of a public school one long misery. Ordinary boys—those of the Scotch borderland being of the most savage type—are more brutal than ordinary men; they hate singularity as the world at first hates originality, and have none of the restraints which the later semi-civilisation of life imposes. "They obey the impulse of rude Nature which bids the deer herd fall upon any stricken hart, the duck flock put to death any broken-winged brother or sister, and on all hands the strong tyrannise over the weak." Young Carlyle was mocked for his moody ways, laughed at for his love of solitude, and called "Tom the Tearful" because of his habit of crying. To add much to his discomfort, he had made a rash promise to his pious mother, who seems, in contrast to her husband's race, to have adopted non-resistance principles—a promise to abstain from fighting, provocative of many cuffs till it was well broken by a hinterschlag, applied to some blustering bully. Nor had he refuge in the sympathy of his teachers, "hide-bound pedants, who knew Syntax enough, and of the human soul thus much: that it had a faculty called Memory, which could be acted on through the muscular integument by appliance of birch rods." At Annan, however, he acquired a fair knowledge of Latin and French, the rudiments of algebra, the Greek alphabet, began to study history, and had his first glimpse of Edward Irving, the bright prize-taker from Edinburgh, later his Mentor and then life-long friend. On Thomas's return home it was decided to send him to the University, despite the cynical warning of one of the village cronies, "Educate a boy, and he grows up to despise his ignorant parents." "Thou hast not done so," said old James in after years, "God be thanked for it;" and the son pays due tribute to the tolerant patience and substantial generosity of the father: "With a noble faith he launched me forth into a world which he himself had never been permitted to visit." Carlyle walked through Moffat all the way to Edinburgh with a senior student, Tom Smail (who owes to this fact the preservation of his name), with eyes open to every shade on the moors, as is attested in two passages of the Reminiscences. The boys, as is the fashion still, clubbed together in cheap lodgings, and Carlyle attended the curriculum from 1809 to 1814. Comparatively little is known of his college life, which seems to have been for the majority of Scotch students much as it is now, a compulsorily frugal life, with too little variety, relaxation, or society outside Class rooms; and, within them, a constant tug at Science, mental or physical, at the gateway to dissecting souls or bodies. We infer, from hints in later conversations and memorials, that Carlyle lived much with his own fancies, and owed little to any system. He is clearly thinking of his own youth in his account of Dr. Francia: "Jose must have been a loose-made tawny creature, much given to taciturn reflection, probably to crying humours, with fits of vehement ill nature—subject to the terriblest fits of hypochondria." His explosion in Sartor, "It is my painful duty to say that out of England and Spain, ours was the worst of all hitherto discovered Universities," is the first of a long series of libels on things and persons he did not like. The Scotch capital was still a literary centre of some original brilliancy, in the light of the circle of Scott, which followed that of Burns, in the early fame of Cockburn and of Clerk (Lord Eldin), of the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews, and of the elder Alison. The Chairs of the University were conspicuously well filled by men of the sedate sort of ability required from Professors, some of them—conspicuously Brown (the more original if less "sound" successor of Dugald Stewart), Playfair, and Leslie—rising to a higher rank. But great Educational Institutions must adapt themselves to the training of average minds by requirements and restrictions against which genius always rebels. Biography more than History repeats itself, and the murmurs of Carlyle are, like those of Milton, Gibbon, Locke, and Wordsworth, the protests or growls of irrepressible individuality kicking against the pricks. He was never in any sense a classic; read Greek with difficulty—Aeschylus and Sophocles mainly in translations—and while appreciating Tacitus disparaged Horace. For Scotch Metaphysics, or any logical system, he never cared, and in his days there was written over the Academic entrances "No Mysticism." He distinguished himself in Mathematics, and soon found, by his own vaunt, the Principia of Newton prostrate at his feet: he was a favourite pupil of Leslie, who escaped the frequent penalty of befriending him, but he took no prizes: the noise in the class room hindered his answers, and he said later to Mr. Froude that thoughts only came to him properly when alone.
[Footnote: He went so far as to say in 1847 that "the man who had mastered the first forty-seven propositions of Euclid stood nearer to God than he had done before."]
The social leader of a select set of young men in his own rank, by choice and necessity integer vitae, he divided his time between the seclusion of study and writing letters, in which kind of literature he was perhaps the most prolific writer of his time. In 1814 Carlyle completed his course without taking a degree, did some tutorial work, and, in the same year, accepted the post of Mathematical Usher at Annan as successor to Irving, who had been translated to Haddington. Still in formal pursuit of the ministry, though beginning to fight shy of its fences, he went up twice a year to deliver addresses at the Divinity Hall, one of which, "on the uses of affliction," was afterwards by himself condemned as flowery; another was a Latin thesis on the theme, "num detur religio naturalis." The posthumous publication of some of his writings, e.g. of the fragment of the novel Wotton Reinfred, reconciles us to the loss of those which have not been recovered.
In the vacations, spent at Mainhill, he began to study German, and corresponded with his College friends. Many of Carlyle's early letters, reproduced in the volumes edited by Mr. Charles E. Norton, are written in that which, according to Voltaire, is the only unpermissible style, "the tiresome"; and the thought, far from being precocious, is distinctly commonplace, e.g. the letter to Robert Mitchell on the fall of Napoleon; or the following to his parents: "There are few things in this world more valuable than knowledge, and youth is the season for acquiring it"; or to James Johnstone the trite quotation, "Truly pale death overturns with impartial foot the hut of the poor man and the palace of the king." Several are marred by the egotism which in most Scotch peasants of aspiring talent takes the form of perpetual comparison of themselves with others; refrains of the ambition against which the writer elsewhere inveighs as the "kettle tied to the dog's tail." In a note to Thomas Murray he writes:—
Ever since I have been able to form a wish, the wish of being known has been the foremost. Oh, Fortune! bestow coronets and crowns and principalities and purses, and pudding and power, upon the great and noble and fat ones of the earth. Grant me that, with a heart unyielding to thy favours and unbending to thy frowns, I may attain to literary fame.
That his critical and literary instincts were yet undeveloped there is ample proof. Take his comment, at the age of nineteen, on the verses of Leyden :—
Shout, Britons, for the battle of Assaye, For that was a day When we stood in our array Like the lion's might at bay.
"Can anything be grander?" To Johnstone (who with Mitchell consumes almost a volume) he writes: "Read Shakespeare. If you have not, then I desire you read it (sic) and tell me what you think of him," etc. Elsewhere the dogmatic summary of Hume's "Essays" illustrates the lingering eighteenth-century Latinism that had been previously travestied in the more stilted passages of the letters of Burns. "Many of his opinions are not to be adopted. How odd does it look to refer all the modifications of national character to the influence of moral causes. Might it not be asserted with some plausibility that even those which he denominates moral causes originate from physical circumstances?" The whole first volume of this somewhat overexpanded collection overflows with ebullitions of bile, in comparison with which the misanthropy of Byron's early romances seems philanthropy, e.g.—
How weary, flat, stale, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world. For what are its inhabitants? Its great men and its little, its fat ones and its lean ... pitiful automatons, despicable Yahoos, yea, they are altogether an insufferable thing. "O for a lodge in some vast wilderness, some boundless contiguity of shade, where the scowl of the purse-proud nabob, the sneer and strut of the coxcomb, the bray of the ninny and the clodpole might never reach me more!"
On the other hand, there are frequent evidences of the imperial intrepidity, the matchless industry, and the splendid independence of the writer. In his twenty-first year Carlyle again succeeded his Annan predecessor (who seems to have given dissatisfaction by some vagaries of severity) as mathematical teacher in the main school of Kirkcaldy. The Reminiscences of Irving's generous reception of his protege present one of the pleasantest pictures in the records of their friendship. The same chapter is illustrated by a series of sketches of the scenery of the east coast rarely rivalled in descriptive literature. It is elsewhere enlivened, if also defaced, by the earliest examples of the cynical criticisms of character that make most readers rejoice in having escaped the author's observation.
During the two years of his residence in Fifeshire, Carlyle encountered his first romance, in making acquaintance with a well-born young lady, "by far the brightest and cleverest" of Irving's pupils—Margaret Gordon—"an acquaintance which might easily have been more" had not relatives and circumstances intervened. Doubtless Mr. Froude is right in asserting this lady to have been the original of Sartor's "Blumine"; and in leaving him to marry "Herr Towgood," ultimately governor of Nova Scotia, she bequeathed, though in antithetical style, advice that attests her discrimination of character. "Cultivate the milder dispositions of the heart, subdue the mere extravagant visions of the brain. Genius will render you great. May virtue render you beloved. Remove the awful distance between you and other men by kind and gentle manners. Deal gently with their inferiority, and be convinced that they will respect you as much and like you more." To this advice, which he never even tried to take, she adds, happily perhaps for herself, "I give you not my address, because I dare not promise to see you." In 1818 Carlyle, always intolerant of work imposed, came to the conclusion that "it were better to perish than to continue schoolmastering," and left Kirkcaldy, with L90 saved, for Edinburgh, where he lived over three years, taking private pupils, and trying to enter on his real mission through the gates of literature—gates constantly barred; for, even in those older days of laxer competition, obstinate eccentricity unredeemed by any social advantages led to failure and rebuff. Men with the literary form of genius highly developed have rarely much endurance of defeat. Carlyle, even in his best moods, resented real or fancied injuries, and at this stage of his career complained that he got nothing but vinegar from his fellows, comparing himself to a worm that trodden on would "turn into a torpedo." He had begun to be tormented by the dyspepsia, which "gnawed like a rat" at its life-long tenement, his stomach, and by sleeplessness, due in part to internal causes, but also to the "Bedlam" noises of men, machines, and animals, which pestered him in town and country from first to last. He kept hesitating about his career, tried law, mathematical teaching, contributions to magazines and dictionaries, everything but journalism, to which he had a rooted repugnance, and the Church, which he had definitely abandoned. How far the change in his views may have been due to his reading of Gibbon, Rousseau, Voltaire, etc., how far to self- reflection, is uncertain; but he already found himself unable, in any plain sense, to subscribe to the Westminster Confession or to any "orthodox" Articles, and equally unable by any philosophical reconciliation of contraries to write black with white on a ground of neutral gray.
[Footnote: He refers to Gibbon's Decline and Fall as "of all books the most impressive on me in my then stage of investigation and state of mind. His winged sarcasms, so quiet and yet so conclusively transpiercing, were often admirably potent and illustrative to me."]
Mentally and physically adrift he was midway in the valley of the shadow, which he represents as "The Everlasting No," and beset by "temptations in the wilderness." At this crisis he writes, "The biographies of men of letters are the wretchedest chapters in our history, except perhaps the Newgate Calendar," a remark that recalls the similar cry of Burns, "There is not among the martyrologies so rueful a narrative as the lives of the poets." Carlyle, reverting to this crisis, refers with constant bitterness to the absence of a popularity which he yet professes to scorn.—I was entirely unknown in Edinburgh circles; solitary eating my own heart, misgivings as to whether there shall be presently anything else to eat, fast losing health, a prey to numerous struggles and miseries ... three weeks without any kind of sleep, from impossibility to be free of noise, ... wanderings through mazes of doubt, perpetual questions unanswered, etc.
What is this but Byron's cry, "I am not happy," which his afterwards stern critic compares to the screaming of a meat-jack?
Carlyle carried with him from town to country the same dismal mood. "Mainhill," says his biographer, "was never a less happy home to him than it was this summer (1819). He could not conceal the condition of his mind; and to his family, to whom the truth of their creed was no more a matter of doubt than the presence of the sun in the sky, he must have seemed as if possessed."
Returning to Edinburgh in the early winter, he for a time wrote hopefully about his studies. "The law I find to be a most complicated subject, yet I like it pretty well. Its great charm in my eyes is that no mean compliances are requisite for prospering in it." But this strain soon gave way to a fresh fit of perversity, and we have a record of his throwing up the cards in one of his most ill-natured notes.
I did read some law books, attend Hume's lectures on Scotch law, and converse with and question various dull people of the practical sort. But it and they and the admired lecturing Hume himself appeared to me mere denizens of the kingdom of dulness, pointing towards nothing but money as wages for all that bogpool of disgust.
The same year (that of Peterloo) was that of the Radical rising in Glasgow against the poverty which was the natural aftermath of the great war, oppressions, half real, half imaginary, of the military force, and the yeomanry in particular. Carlyle's contribution to the reminiscences of the time is doubly interesting because written (in the article on Irving, 1836) from memory, when he had long ceased to be a Radical. A few sentences suffice to illustrate this phase or stage of his political progress:—
A time of great rages and absurd terrors and expectations, a very fierce Radical and anti-Radical time. Edinburgh, endlessly agitated by it all around me ... gentry people full of zeal and foolish terror and fury, and looking disgustingly busy and important.... One bleared Sunday morning I had gone out for my walk. At the Riding-house in Nicolson Street was a kind of straggly group, with red-coats interspersed. They took their way, not very dangerous-looking men of war; but there rose from the little crowd the strangest shout I have heard human throats utter, not very loud, but it said as plain as words, and with infinitely more emphasis of sincerity, "May the devil go with you, ye peculiarly contemptible, and dead to the distresses of your fellow-creatures!" Another morning ... I met an advocate slightly of my acquaintance hurrying along, musket in hand, towards the Links, there to be drilled as item of the "gentlemen" volunteers now afoot. "You should have the like of this," said he, cheerily patting his musket "Hm, yes; but I haven't yet quite settled on which side"—which probably he hoped was quiz, though it really expressed my feeling ... mutiny and revolt being a light matter to the young.
This period is illustrated by numerous letters from Irving, who had migrated to Glasgow as an assistant to Dr. Chalmers, abounding in sound counsels to persevere in some profession and make the best of practical opportunities. Carlyle's answers have in no instance been preserved, but the sole trace of his having been influenced by his friend's advice is his contribution (1820-1823) of sixteen articles to the Edinburgh Encyclopedia under the editorship of Sir David Brewster. The scant remuneration obtained from these was well timed, but they contain no original matter, and did nothing for his fame. Meanwhile it appears from one of Irving's letters that Carlyle's thoughts had been, as later in his early London life, turning towards emigration. He says, writes his friend, "I have the ends of my thoughts to bring together ... my views of life to reform, my health to recover, and then once more I shall venture my bark on the waters of this wide realm, and if she cannot weather it I shall steer west and try the waters of another world."
[Footnote: The subjects of these were—Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Montaigne, Montesquieu, Montfaucon, Dr. Moore, Sir John Moore, Necker, Nelson, Netherlands, Newfoundland, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Mungo Park, Lord Chatham, William Pitt. These articles, on the whole judiciously omitted from the author's collected works, are characterised by marks of great industry, commonplace, and general fairness, with a style singularly formal, like that of the less im pressive pages of Johnson. The following, among numerous passages, are curious as illustrating the comparative orthodoxy of the writer's early judgments: "The brilliant hints which Montesquieu scatters round him with a liberal hand have excited or assisted the speculations of others in almost every department of political economy, and he is deservedly mentioned as a principal founder of that important science." "Mirabeau confronted him (Necker) like his evil genius; and being totally without scruple in the employment of any expedient, was but too successful in overthrowing all reasonable proposals, and conducting the people to that state of anarchy out of which his own ambition was to be rewarded," etc. Similarly the verdicts on Pitt, Chatham, Nelson, Park, Lady Montagu, etc., are those of an ordinary intelligent Englishman of conscientious research, fed on the "Lives of the Poets" and Trafalgar memories. The morality, as in the Essay on Montaigne, is unexceptionable; the following would commend itself to any boarding school: "Melancholy experience has never ceased to show that great warlike talents, like great talents of any kind, may be united with a coarse and ignoble heart."]
The resolves, sometimes the efforts, of celebrated Englishmen,—"nos manet oceanus,"—as Cromwell, Burns, Coleridge, and Southey (allured, some critic suggests, by the poetical sound of Susquehanna), Arthur Clough, Richard Hengist Horne, and Browning's "Waring," to elude "the fever and the fret" of an old civilisation, and take refuge in the fancied freedom of wild lands—when more than dreams—have been failures.
[Footnote: Cf. the American Bryant himself, in his longing to leave his New York Press and "plant him where the red deer feed, in the green forest," to lead the life of Robin Hood and Shakespeare's banished Duke.]
Puritan patriots, it is true, made New England, and the scions of the Cavaliers Virginia; but no poet or imaginative writer has ever been successfully transplanted, with the dubious exception of Heinrich Heine. It is certain that, despite his first warm recognition coming from across the Atlantic, the author of the Latter-Day Pamphlets would have found the "States" more fruitful in food for cursing than either Edinburgh or London.
The spring of 1820 was marked by a memorable visit to Irving, on Carlyle's way to spend as was his wont the summer months at home. His few days in Glasgow are recorded in a graphic sketch of the bald-headed merchants at the Tontine, and an account of his introduction to Dr. Chalmers, to whom he refers always with admiration and a respect but slightly modified. The critic's praise of British contemporaries, other than relatives, is so rare that the following sentences are worth transcribing:—
He (Chalmers) was a man of much natural dignity, ingenuity, honesty, and kind affection, as well as sound intellect and imagination.... He had a burst of genuine fun too.... His laugh was ever a hearty, low guffaw, and his tones in preaching would reach to the piercingly pathetic. No preacher ever went so into one's heart. He was a man essentially of little culture, of narrow sphere all his life. Such an intellect, professing to be educated, and yet ... ignorant in all that lies beyond the horizon in place or time I have almost nowhere met with—a man capable of so much soaking indolence, lazy brooding ... as the first stage of his life well indicated, ... yet capable of impetuous activity and braying audacity, as his later years showed. I suppose there will never again be such a preacher in any Christian church. "The truth of Christianity," he said, "was all written in us already in sympathetic ink. Bible awakens it, and you can read"—a sympathetic image but of no great weight as an argument addressed to doubting Thomas. Chalmers, whose originality lay rather in his quick insight and fire than in his mainly commonplace thought, had the credit of recognising the religious side of Carlyle's genius, when to the mass of his countrymen he was a rock of offence. One of the great preacher's criticisms of the great writer is notably just: "He is a lover of earnestness more than a lover of truth."
There follows in some of the early pages of the Reminiscences an account of a long walk with Irving, who had arranged to accompany Carlyle for the first stage, i.e. fifteen miles of the road, of his for the most part pedestrian march from Glasgow to Ecclefechan, a record among many of similar excursions over dales and hills, and "by the beached margent," revived for us in sun and shade by a pen almost as magical as Turner's brush. We must refer to the pages of Mr. Froude for the picture of Drumclog moss,—"a good place for Cameronian preaching, and dangerously difficult for Claverse (sic) and horse soldiery if the suffering remnant had a few old muskets among them,"—for the graphic glimpse of Ailsa Craig, and the talk by the dry stone fence, in the twilight. "It was just here, as the sun was sinking, Irving drew from me by degrees, in the softest manner, that I did not think as he of the Christian religion, and that it was vain for me to expect I ever could or should. This, if this was so, he had pre-engaged to take well of me, like an elder brother, if I would be frank with him. And right loyally he did so." They parted here: Carlyle trudged on to the then "utterly quiet little inn" at Muirkirk, left next morning at 4 A.M., and reached Dumfries, a distance of fifty-four miles, at 8 P.M., "the longest walk I ever made." He spent the summer at Mainhill, studying modern languages, "living riotously with Schiller and Goethe." at work on the Encyclopedia articles, and visiting his friend at Annan, when he was offered the post of tutor to the son of a Yorkshire farmer, an offer which Irving urged him to accept, saying, "You live too much in an ideal world," and wisely adding, "try your hand with the respectable illiterate men of middle life. You may be taught to forget ... the splendours and envies ... of men of literature."
This exhortation led to a result recorded with much humour, egotism, and arrogance in a letter to his intimate friend Dr. John Fergusson, of Kelso Grammar School, which, despite the mark "private and confidential," was yet published, several years after the death of the recipient and shortly after that of the writer, in a gossiping memoir. We are therefore at liberty to select from the letter the following paragraphs:—
I delayed sending an answer till I might have it in my power to communicate what seemed then likely to produce a considerable change in my stile (sic) of life, a proposal to become a "travelling tutor," as they call it, to a young person in the North Riding, for whom that exercise was recommended on account of bodily and mental weakness. They offered me L150 per annum, and withal invited me to come and examine things on the spot before engaging. I went accordingly, and happy was it I went; from description I was ready to accept the place; from inspection all Earndale would not have hired me to accept it. This boy was a dotard, a semi-vegetable, the elder brother, head of the family, a two-legged animal without feathers, intellect, or virtue, and all the connections seemed to have the power of eating pudding but no higher power. So I left the barbarous people....York is but a heap of bricks. Jonathan Dryasdust (see Ivanhoe) is justly named. York is the Boetia of Britain.... Upon the whole, however, I derived great amusement from my journey, ... I conversed with all kinds of men, from graziers up to knights of the shire, argued with them all, and broke specimens from their souls (if any), which I retain within the museum of my cranium. I have no prospects that are worth the name. I am like a being thrown from another planet on this dark terrestrial ball, an alien, a pilgrim ... and life is to me like a pathless, a waste, and a howling wilderness. Do not leave your situation if you can possibly avoid it. Experience shows it to be a fearful thing to be swept in by the roaring surge of life, and then to float alone undirected on its restless, monstrous bosom. Keep ashore while yet you may, or if you must to sea, sail under convoy; trust not the waves without a guide. You and I are but pinnaces or cock-boats, yet hold fast by the Manilla ship, and do not let go the painter.
Towards the close of this year Irving, alarmed by his friend's despondency, sent him a most generous and delicately-worded invitation to spend some months under his roof; but Carlyle declined, and in a letter of March 1821 he writes to his brother John: "Edinburgh, with all its drawbacks, is the only scene for me," on which follows one of his finest descriptions, that of the view from Arthur Seat.
According to the most probable chronology, for many of Carlyle's dates are hard to fix, the next important event of his life, his being introduced, on occasion of a visit to Haddington, to Miss Jane Welsh by her old tutor, Edward Irving—an event which marks the beginning of a new era in his career—took place towards the close of May or in the first week of June. To June is assigned the incident, described in Sartor as the transition from the Everlasting No to the Everlasting Yea, a sort of revelation that came upon him as he was in Leith Walk—Rue St. Thomas de l'Enfer in the Romance—on the way to cool his distempers by a plunge in the sea. The passage proclaiming this has been everywhere quoted; and it is only essential to note that it resembled the "illuminations" of St. Paul and of Constantine merely by its being a sudden spiritual impulse. It was in no sense a conversion to any belief in person or creed, it was but the assertion of a strong manhood against an almost suicidal mood of despair; a condition set forth with superabundant paraphernalia of eloquence easily condensed. Doubt in the mind of Teufelsdroeckh had darkened into disbelief in divine or human justice, freedom, or himself. If there be a God, He sits on the hills "since the first Sabbath," careless of mankind. Duty seems to be but a "phantasm made up of desire and fear"; virtue "some bubble of the blood," absence of vitality perhaps.
What in these days are terrors of conscience to diseases of the liver? Not on morality but on cookery let us build our stronghold.... Thus has the bewildered wanderer to stand, shouting question after question into the Sibyl cave, and receiving for answer an echo.
From this scepticism, deeper than that of Queen Mab, fiercer than that of Candide, Carlyle was dramatically rescued by the sense that he was a servant of God, even when doubting His existence.
After all the nameless woe that inquiry had wrought me, I nevertheless still loved truth, and would hate no jot of my allegiance....Truth I cried, though the heavens crush me for following her; no falsehood! though a whole celestial lubberland were the price of apostacy.
With a grasp on this rock, Carlyle springs from the slough of despond and asserts himself:
Denn ich bin ein Mensch gewesen Und das heisst ein Kaempfer seyn.
He finds in persistent action, energy, and courage a present strength, and a lamp of at least such partial victory as he lived to achieve.
He would not make his judgment blind; He faced the spectres of the mind,—
but he never "laid them," or came near the serenity of his master, Goethe; and his teaching, public and private, remained half a wail. He threw the gage rather in the attitude of a man turning at bay than that of one making a leap.
Death? Well, Death ... let it come then, and I will meet it and defy it. And as so I thought there rushed a stream of fire over my soul, and I shook base fear away. Ever from that time the temper of my misery was changed; not ... whining sorrow ... but grim defiance.
Yet the misery remained, for two years later we find him writing:—
I could read the curse of Ernulphus, or something twenty times as fierce, upon myself and all things earthly....The year is closing. This time eight and twenty years I was a child of three weeks ago....
Oh! little did my mother think, That day she cradled me, The lands that I should travel in, The death I was to dee.
My curse seems deeper and blacker than that of any man: to be immured in a rotten carcase, every avenue of which is changed into an inlet of pain. How have I deserved this? I know not. Then why don't you kill yourself, sir? Is there not arsenic? Is there not ratsbane of various kinds? And hemp, and steel? Most true, Sathanas...but it will be time enough to use them when I have lost the game I am but losing, ... and while my friends, my mother, father, brothers, sisters live, the duty of not breaking their hearts would still remain....I want health, health, health! On this subject I am becoming quite furious: my torments are greater than I am able to bear.
Nowhere in Carlyle's writing, save on the surface, is there any excess of Optimism; but after the Leith Walk inspiration he had resolved on "no surrender"; and that, henceforth, he had better heart in his work we have proof in its more regular, if not more rapid progress. His last hack service was the series of articles for Brewster, unless we add a translation, under the same auspices, of Legendre's Geometry, begun, according to some reports, in the Kirkcaldy period, finished in 1822, and published in 1824. For this task, prefixed by an original Essay on Proportion, much commended by De Morgan, he obtained the respectable sum of L50. Two subsequent candidatures for Chairs of Astronomy showed that Carlyle had not lost his taste for Mathematics; but this work was his practical farewell to that science. His first sustained efforts as an author were those of an interpreter. His complete mastery of German has been said to have endowed him with "his sword of sharpness and shoes of swiftness"; it may be added, in some instances also, with the "fog-cap." But in his earliest substantial volume, the Life of Schiller, there is nothing either obscure in style or mystic in thought. This work began to appear in the London Magazine in 1823, was finished in 1824, and in 1825 published in a separate form. Approved during its progress by an encouraging article in the Times, it was, in 1830, translated into German on the instigation of Goethe, who introduced the work by an important commendatory preface, and so first brought the author's name conspicuously before a continental public. Carlyle himself, partly perhaps from the spirit of contradiction, was inclined to speak slightingly of this high-toned and sympathetic biography: "It is," said he, "in the wrong vein, laborious, partly affected, meagre, bombastic." But these are sentences of a morbid time, when, for want of other victims, he turned and rent himself. Pari passu, he was toiling at his translation of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. This was published in Edinburgh in 1824. Heartily commended in Blackwood, it was generally recognised as one of the best English renderings of any foreign author; and Jeffrey, in his absurd review of Goethe's great prose drama, speaks in high terms of the skill displayed by the translator. The virulent attack of De Quincey—a writer as unreliable as brilliant—in the London Magazine does not seem to have carried much weight even then, and has none now. The Wanderjahre, constituting the third volume of the English edition, first appeared as the last of four on German Romance—a series of admirably selected and executed translations from Musaeus, Fouque, Tieck, Hoffmann, Richter, and Goethe, prefaced by short biographical and critical notices of each—published in Edinburgh in 1827. This date is also that of the first of the more elaborate and extensive criticisms which, appearing in the Edinburgh and Foreign reviews, established Carlyle as the English pioneer of German literature. The result of these works would have been enough to drive the wolf from the door and to render their author independent of the oatmeal from home; while another source of revenue enabled him not only to keep himself, but to settle his brother Alick in a farm, and to support John through his University course as a medical student. This and similar services to the family circle were rendered with gracious disclaimers of obligation. "What any brethren of our father's house possess, I look on as a common stock from which all are entitled to draw."
For this good fortune he was again indebted to his friend of friends. Irving had begun to feel his position at Glasgow unsatisfactory, and at the close of 1821 he was induced to accept an appointment to the Caledonian Chapel at Hatton Garden. On migrating to London, to make a greater, if not a safer, name in the central city, and finally, be lost in its vortex, he had invited Carlyle to follow him, saying, "Scotland breeds men, but England rears them." Shortly after, introduced by Mrs. Strachey, one of his worshipping audience, to her sister Mrs. Buller, he found the latter in trouble about the education of her sons. Charles, the elder, was a youth of bright but restive intelligence, and it was desired to find some transitional training for him on his way from Harrow to Cambridge. Irving urged his being placed, in the interim, under Carlyle's charge. The proposal, with an offer of L200 a year, was accepted, and the brothers were soon duly installed in George Square, while their tutor remained in Moray Place, Edinburgh. The early stages of this relationship were eminently satisfactory; Carlyle wrote that the teaching of the Bullers was a pleasure rather than a task; they seemed to him "quite another set of boys than I have been used to, and treat me in another sort of manner than tutors are used. The eldest is one of the cleverest boys I have ever seen." There was never any jar between the teacher and the taught. Carlyle speaks with unfailing regard of the favourite pupil, whose brilliant University and Parliamentary career bore testimony to the good practical guidance he had received. His premature death at the entrance on a sphere of wider influence made a serious blank in his old master's life.
[Footnote: Charles Buller became Carlyle's pupil at the age of fifteen. He died as Commissioner of the Poor in 1848 (aet. forty-two).]
But as regards the relation of the employer and employed, we are wearied by the constantly recurring record of kindness lavishly bestowed, ungraciously received, and soon ungratefully forgotten. The elder Bullers—the mother a former beauty and woman of some brilliancy, the father a solid and courteous gentleman retired from the Anglo-Indian service—came to Edinburgh in the spring of the tutorship, and recognising Carlyle's abilities, welcomed him to the family circle, and treated him, by his own confession, with a "degree of respect" he "did not deserve"; adapting their arrangements, as far as possible, to his hours and habits; consulting his convenience and humouring his whims. Early in 1823 they went to live together at Kinnaird House, near Dunkeld, when he continued to write letters to his kin still praising his patrons; but the first note of discord is soon struck in satirical references to their aristocratic friends and querulous complaints of the servants. During the winter, for greater quiet, a room was assigned to him in another house near Kinnaird; a consideration which met with the award: "My bower is the most polite of bowers, refusing admittance to no wind that blows." And about this same time he wrote, growling at his fare: "It is clear to me that I shall never recover my health under the economy of Mrs. Buller."
In 1824 the family returned to London, and Carlyle followed in June by a sailing yacht from Leith. On arrival he sent to Miss Welsh a letter, sneering at his fellow passengers, but ending with a striking picture of his first impressions of the capital:—
We were winding slowly through the forest of masts in the Thames up to our station at Tower Wharf. The giant bustle, the coal heavers, the bargemen, the black buildings, the ten thousand times ten thousand sounds and movements of that monstrous harbour formed the grandest object I had ever witnessed. One man seems a drop in the ocean; you feel annihilated in the immensity of that heart of all the world.
On reaching London he first stayed for two or three weeks under Irving's roof and was introduced to his friends. Of Mrs. Strachey and her young cousin Kitty, who seems to have run the risk of admiring him to excess, he always spoke well: but the Basil Montagues, to whose hospitality and friendship he was made welcome, he has maligned in such a manner as to justify the retaliatory pamphlet of the sharp-tongued eldest daughter of the house, then about to become Mrs. Anne Procter. By letter and "reminiscence" he is equally reckless in invective against almost all the eminent men of letters with whom he then came in contact, and also, in most cases, in ridicule of their wives. His accounts of Hazlitt, Campbell, and Coleridge have just enough truth to give edge to libels, in some cases perhaps whetted by the consciousness of their being addressed to a sympathetic listener: but it is his frequent travesty of well-wishers and creditors for kindness that has left the deepest stain on his memory. Settled with his pupil Charles in Kew Green lodgings he writes: "The Bullers are essentially a cold race of people. They live in the midst of fashion and external show. They love no living creature." And a fortnight later, from Irving's house at Pentonville, he sends to his mother an account of his self-dismissal. Mrs. Buller had offered him two alternatives—to go with the family to France or to remain in the country preparing the eldest boy for Cambridge. He declined both, and they parted, shaking hands with dry eyes. "I feel glad," he adds in a sentence that recalls the worst egotism of Coleridge, "that I have done with them ... I was selling the very quintessence of my spirit for L200 a year."
[Footnote: Vide Carlyle's Life of Sterling (1st ed. 1851), chap. viii. p. 79.]
There followed eight weeks of residence in or about Birmingham, with a friend called 'Badams, who undertook to cure dyspepsia by a new method and failed without being reviled. Together, and in company with others, as the astronomer Airy, they saw the black country and the toiling squads, in whom Carlyle, through all his shifts from radical democracy to Platonic autocracy, continued to take a deep interest; on other days they had pleasant excursions to the green fields and old towers of Warwickshire. On occasion of this visit he came in contact with De Quincey's review of Meister, and in recounting the event credits himself with the philosophic thought, "This man is perhaps right on some points; if so let him be admonitory."
But the description that follows of "the child that has been in hell," however just, is less magnanimous. Then came a trip, in company with Mr. Strachey and Kitty and maid, by Dover and Calais along Sterne's route to Paris, "The Vanity Fair of the Universe," where Louis XVIII. was then lying dead in state. Carlyle's comments are mainly acid remarks on the Palais Royal, with the refrain, "God bless the narrow seas." But he met Legendre and Laplace, heard Cuvier lecture and saw Talma act, and, what was of more moment, had his first glimpse of the Continent and the city of one phase of whose history he was to be the most brilliant recorder. Back in London for the winter, where his time was divided between Irving's house and his own neighbouring room in Southampton Street, he was cheered by Goethe's own acknowledgment of the translation of Meister, characteristically and generously cordial.
In March 1825 Carlyle again set his face northward, and travelling by coach through Birmingham, Manchester, Bolton, and Carlisle, established himself, in May, at Hoddam Hill; a farm near the Solway, three miles from Mainhill, which his father had leased for him. His brother Alexander farmed, while Thomas toiled on at German translations and rode about on horseback. For a space, one of the few contented periods of his life, there is a truce to complaining. Here free from the noises which are the pests of literary life, he was building up his character and forming the opinions which, with few material changes, he long continued to hold. Thus he writes from over a distance of forty years :—
With all its manifold petty troubles, this year at Hoddam Hill has a rustic beauty and dignity to me, and lies now like a not ignoble russet-coated idyll in my memory; one of the quietest on the whole, and perhaps the most triumphantly important of my life.... I found that I had conquered all my scepticisms, agonising doubtings, fearful wrestlings with the foul and vile and soul-murdering mud-gods of my epoch, and was emerging free in spirit into the eternal blue of ether. I had in effect gained an immense victory.... Once more, thank Heaven for its highest gift, I then felt and still feel endlessly indebted to Goethe in the business. He, in his fashion, I perceived, had travelled the steep road before me, the first of the moderns. Bodily health itself seemed improving.... Nowhere can I recollect of myself such pious musings, communings silent and spontaneous with Fact and Nature as in these poor Annandale localities. The sound of the Kirk bell once or twice on Sunday mornings from Hoddam Kirk, about a mile off on the plain below me, was strangely touching, like the departing voice of eighteen hundred years.
Elsewhere, during one of the rare gleams of sunshine in a life of lurid storms, we have the expression of his passionate independence, his tyrannous love of liberty:—
It is inexpressible what an increase of happiness and of consciousness—of inward dignity—I have gained since I came within the walls of this poor cottage—my own four walls. They simply admit that I am Herr im Hause, and act on this conviction. There is no grumbling about my habitudes and whims. If I choose to dine on fire and brimstone, they will cook it for me to their best skill, thinking only that I am an unintelligible mortal, facheux to deal with, but not to be dealt with in any other way. My own four walls.
The last words form the refrain of a set of verses, the most characteristic, as Mr. Froude justly observes, of the writer, the actual composition of which seems, however, to belong to the next chapter of his career, beginning—
Wild through the wind the huntsman calls, As fast on willing nag I haste Home to my own four walls.
The feeling that inspires them is clenched in the defiance—
King George has palaces of pride, And armed grooms must ward those halls; With one stout bolt I safe abide Within my own four walls.
Not all his men may sever this; It yields to friends', not monarchs' calls; My whinstone house my castle is— I have my own four walls.
When fools or knaves do make a rout, With gigmen, dinners, balls, cabals, I turn my back and shut them out; These are my own four walls.
"Ah, when she was young, she was a fleein', dancin", light-heartit thing, Jeannie Welsh, that naething would hae dauntit. But she grew grave a' at ance. There was Maister Irving, ye ken, that had been her teacher; and he cam' aboot her. Then there was Maister ——. Then there was Maister Carlyle himsel', and he cam' to finish her off like."—HADDINGTON NURSE.
"My broom, as I sweep up the withered leaves, might be heard at a furlong's distance."—T. CARLYLE, from Craigenputtock, Oct. 1830.
During the last days at Hoddam Hill, Carlyle was on the verge of a crisis of his career, i.e. his making a marriage, for the chequered fortune of which he was greatly himself to blame.
No biography can ignore the strange conditions of a domestic life, already made familiar in so many records that they are past evasion. Various opinions have been held regarding the lady whom he selected to share his lot. Any adequate estimate of this remarkable woman belongs to an account of her own career, such as that given by Mrs. Ireland in her judicious and interesting abridgment of the material amply supplied. Jane Baillie Welsh (b.1801, d. 1866)—descended on the paternal side from Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of John Knox; on the maternal owning to an inheritance of gipsy blood—belonged to a family long esteemed in the borders. Her father, a distinguished Edinburgh student, and afterwards eminent surgeon at Haddington, noted alike for his humanity and skill, made a small fortune, and purchased in advance from his father his inheritance of Craigenputtock, a remnant of the once larger family estate. He died in 1819, when his daughter was in her eighteenth year. To her he left the now world-famous farm and the bulk of his property. Jane, of precocious talents, seems to have been, almost from infancy, the tyrant of the house at Haddington, where her people took a place of precedence in the small county town. Her grandfathers, John of Penfillan and Walter of Templand, also a Welsh, though of another—the gipsy—stock, vied for her baby favours, while her mother's quick and shifty tempers seem at that date to have combined in the process of "spoiling" her. The records of the schooldays of the juvenile Jane all point to a somewhat masculine strength of character. Through life, it must be acknowledged, this brilliant creature was essentially "a mockingbird," and made game of every one till she met her mate. The little lady was learned, reading Virgil at nine, ambitious enough to venture a tragedy at fourteen, and cynical; writing to her life-long friend, Miss Eliza Stodart, of Haddington as a "bottomless pit of dulness," where "all my little world lay glittering in tinsel at my feet." She was ruthless to the suitors—as numerous, says Mr. Froude, "as those of Penelope "—who flocked about the young beauty, wit, and heiress. Of the discarded rivals there was only one of note—George Rennie, long afterwards referred to by Carlyle as a "clever, decisive, very ambitious, but quite unmelodious young fellow whom we knew here (in Chelsea) as sculptor and M.P." She dismissed him in 1821 for some cause of displeasure, "due to pride, reserve, and his soured temper about the world"; but when he came to take leave, she confesses, "I scarcely heard a word he said, my own heart beat so loud." Years after, in London, she went by request of his wife to Rennie's death-bed.
Meanwhile she had fallen under the spell of her tutor, Edward Irving, and, as she, after much finesse and evasion, admitted, came to love him in earnest. Irving saw her weak points, saying she was apt to turn her powers to "arts of cruelty which satire and scorn are," and "to contemplate the inferiority of others rather from the point of view of ridicule and contempt than of commiseration and relief." Later she retaliated, "There would have been no 'tongues' had Irving married me." But he was fettered by a previous engagement, to which, after some struggle for release, he held, leaving in charge of his pupil, as guide, philosopher, and friend, his old ally and successor, Thomas Carlyle. Between this exceptional pair there began in 1821 a relationship of constant growth in intimacy, marked by frequent visits, conversations, confidences, and a correspondence, long, full, and varied, starting with interchange of literary sympathies, and sliding by degrees into the dangerous friendship called Platonic. At the outset it was plain that Carlyle was not the St. Preux or Wolmar whose ideas of elegance Jane Welsh—a hasty student of Rousseau—had set in unhappy contrast to the honest young swains of Haddington. Uncouth, ungainly in manner and attire, he first excited her ridicule even more than he attracted her esteem, and her written descriptions of him recall that of Johnson by Lord Chesterfield. "He scrapes the fender, ... only his tongue should be left at liberty, his other members are most fantastically awkward"; but the poor mocking-bird had met her fate. The correspondence falls under two sections, the critical and the personal. The critical consists of remarks, good, bad, and indifferent, on books and their writers. Carlyle began his siege by talking German to her, now extolling Schiller and Goethe to the skies, now, with a rare stretch of deference, half conniving at her sneers. Much also passed between them about English authors, among them comments on Byron, notably inconsistent. Of him Carlyle writes (April 15th 1824) as "a pampered lord," who would care nothing for the L500 a year that would make an honest man happy; but later, on hearing of the death at Mesolonghi, more in the vein of his master Goethe, he exclaims:—