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AUGUST 1, 1849.
Art. I. (1.) Critical and Miscellaneous Essays. Five Volumes. (2.) Sartor Resartus; or, The Life and Opinions of Teufelsdröckh. (3.) Chartism. (4.) The French Revolution :-a History. Three Volumes. (5.) Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches. Two Volumes.
MR. CARLYLE's writings cover a wide field of speculation and widely different is the estimate formed of them by his contemporaries. So fascinated are some of our reading folk with his performances, that they judge of them after a fashion not a little perplexing to their neighbours. In the view of these persons, his touch suffices to convert the veriest commonplaces into something strikingly novel, and the thinnest superficialities into something wonderfully profound. With such commonplace and superficialities all men must have more or less to do the humour in this case is, that these simple elements of thought, being rather oddly clothed, should be so commonly mistaken for something differing so very widely from their proper nature. But so it is. With these watchers at the shrine of heroes, everything taken under the patronage of the object of their worship becomes weighty and sacred; and all the possible forms of the grotesque, after the manner of the monstrous gods of heathendom, become so many symbols of things refined and beautiful. That their prophet should always be intelligible to them is more than their modesty will allow them to expect. They feel that it belongs to him to soar into regions to which they may not themselves hope to ascend, and to go down into deeps where no common footsteps may follow him. But when out of their sight, he is not out of their confidence. Kingly nature as he is, he can do no wrong—he is safe against NO. XIX.
all possible mistake. 'How could you sleep to-day under the discourse of a divine you praise so highly?' said a simple Southern to a wary Scot– Oh,' replied the latter, 'I can trust him anywhere. Very much thus is it with a large class of Mr. Carlyle's admirers. When he essays to do anything, they fail not to give him the credit of having done something marvellous, though proof on that point may be somewhat slow in making its appearance. 'Should the prince at noon-day say,
It is night, declare,' writes Sadi, our oriental Chesterfield, 6 that
behold the moon and stars. And there are people in the west who seem to possess their eyesight and their common sense only to some such
purpose. But if favouritism be capricious and excessive, so is its opposite. If there are persons to whom Mr. Carlyle is as an inspired prophet, there are others to whom his mannerisms are about the most satisfactory certificate that could be given as to his fitness for Bedlam. He may rate against shams' until doomsday, but, in the judgment of these parties, of all the shams in this age of false pretension he is himself one of the greatest. Abstract from his writings the good things he has purloined from a foreign tongue; and, with them, the disguises he has thrown over much ordinary thought by a most fantastic use of the tongue that should have been his own, and the residuum, we are told, will be all but worthless. His style is especially offensive to this class of critics. It is accounted as more befitting the taste of a scaramouch than that of a scholar; as better adapted to supply amusement to the laughter-loving crowds in Bartholomew Fair, than to find due acceptance in that awful domain-the world of letters.
We hardly need tell you, good reader, that we are not ourselves ambitious of being classed with either of these extremes, To us, the conclusion most obvious in this case is, that the man of whom judgments so much at issue have been formed, and formed so widely, cannot be an ordinary man. Even strong dislike implies the presence of some strong element calling it forth. Men may hate the powerful, the weak they neglect. Strong feeling is costly, and not usually expended upon trifles. Extravagant admiration, too, even when subject to large abatement, may suffice to indicate the presence of some real excellence. In all worship there is wisdom. For ourselves, we are disposed to take our place with that large class of thoughtful men in this country, found in grades from the highest almost to the lowest, who see in the genius of Mr. Carlyle a more remarkable combination both of the stronger and weaker elements of our age than in any other man among us. Believing thus much concerning him, we are disposed to think that we shall not be unprofitably employed in endeavouring to distinguish between the strength and weakness, and the good and bad in his leading speculations.
We should not, perhaps, have given ourselves to this service just now, had we not frequently found the grossest misconceptions prevalent, and in quarters where better information might have been expected, as to the position of Mr. Carlyle in reference to some of the graver questions of the day, and especially in reference to Christianity. It is one peculiarity of his writings, that men of all shades in political and religious opinion may find passages in them which appear to harmonize to the full with their own favourite principles.
We find him claimed, accordingly, by all parties in turn. Many simple-minded people read his denunciations against scepticism, and straightway conclude, not only that Mr. Carlyle is himself a believer, but that he is, of course, a believer in the Bible after the good old fashion. His writings, especially his later writings, may be said to be eminently religious in their tone; and their being earnestly religious in some sense, is taken as a sufficient guarantee of their being favourable to religion in the best sense. In the meanwhile, to say what sort of religion it is that Mr. Carlyle wishes to inculcate, would puzzle very many who have some knowledge of what he has written on that subject. Far be it from us to attempt to raise the odium theologicum against Mr. Carlyle, or to do him injustice in the smallest degree; but we think it due to interests which with us are far above all others, to attempt to determine the exact relation of this influential author to some of those social, philosophical, and religious questions which are so frequently the subject of discussion in his works. For any man to do thus much for himself, it would be necessary to read all that Mr. Carlyle has written, and to collate carefully as he reads—no trivial labour when an author's publications extend to more than a dozen substantial volumes. Apology for our present attempt we of course have none to offer, inasmuch as it is not to be supposed that a man who is himself so stern a hater of falsehood, can have the least wish that the public conception of him should be a false one.
What that conception should be we hope to show, and this showing will be deduced, with the utmost candour we can bring to the investigation, from his own writings.
1. Every one is aware of the high place assigned in Mr. Carlyle's speculations to Faith—men are to believe, to have convictions, to become earnest, or there is no hope of them. Now this is a great truth. Every really Christian man-every man who regards existence as having a meaning, must say amen to it. Much, too, may be said, in vindication of Mr. Carlyle's wrath against a large class of formalist and conventionalist people who flatter themselves that they are great believers while they are not. Our neighbour, Richard Brown, is a sturdy "Westminster Assembly' man. He believes, if you may credit his statement, in the most wonderful things ever believed concerning God or man. There is not a depth of fear or a force of aspiration in man which the articles of this man's creed should not move, giving to his life an energetic spiritualism such as no believer in any other creed has ever erinced. But Richard buys and sells, and counts the gain, all the week long, with as little apparent thought about the mysteries of existence, present or to come, as his brother Thomas, who carries on his traffic in the next street, and who has never pretended to give his thoughts to such high matters. It is true, Richard is careful to close his shop on Sundays, and may be seen in other trim, and in another place on that day. But on all other days he reads the news, smokes his pipe, and seems to be quite as considerate of his worldly enjoyments as his neighbours. Such is the tenour of his way; and keeping square with the world, and avoiding all such scandals as were wont to bring men into bishops' courts, you see about him the air of a person who feels that something like the whole duty of man has been in his case performed. Now Mr. Carlyle has no compliment to offer to the creedless soul of Thomas, who carries on his traffic in the next street; but to this Richard—to him he would speak in terms that are meant to burn as he utters them—' out upon
the man,' we think we hear him say out upon thee, be more, and * do more than thy brother, or cease to pretend that thou believest more. It is bad enough to be faithless, to have no commerce with the godlike,—but this lazy, slimy effort of thine, to thrust hypocrisy into the place of such commerce, if there be 'goodness in God's universe, this must be as a foulness to its nostrils.
So when our censor passes from these less polite sections of humanity, and fixes his gaze on the people who make another choice in tailoring and millinery, and are found in circles' full of the respectabilities,' eren here he is no less offended. by the hollow, the factitious,--by a world of seeming without reality. The creed of these people has come to them, as all their other conventional things have come, or as all their ordinary likings or dislikings have come. If the one-tenth of what they profess to believe amidst all their Sunday pageantries,