Page images
PDF
EPUB

So of nobles; by all means let there be nobles, but let them be natural nobles, not beings to whom artificial usage may give the mere clothing of nobility. Have the reality, brethren, is the entreaty of our author, not some piece of law-made imbecility or knavery thrust into its room. He has no quarrel with leadership, when it happens to fall to such men as King Alfred or Senator Hampden. His only fear about men of this order is, lest they should not impress their own will sufficiently on the subject wills about them. He is for a government everywhere by heroic qualities, as far as may be by heroes. He demands obedience to such rule in the spirit of an Eastern despot, and in the spirit of such a despot would he sweep away the base and refuse herd that should dare to rebel against it. A purely democratic government he regards as the impossible in politics; or as that which, if possible, would be, not as some wise people think, a paradise restored, so much as pandemonium made visible. Of all follies in this shape, the idea of the government of the many by the many he accounts the most unsocial, the most irreligious, the most like Bedlam. This is a somewhat curious creed to be broached in this England of ours, in the year of grace 1849. .

" The notion that a man's liberty consists in giving his vote at election-hustings, and saying, Behold now, I, too, have my twentythousandth part of a Talker in our National Palaver; will not all the gods be good to me?' is one of the pleasantest! Nature, nevertheless, is kind at present, and puts it into the heads of many, almost of all. The liberty, especially, which has to purchase itself by social isolation, and each man standing separate from the other, having no business with him' but a cash account, this is such a liberty as the Earth seldom saw;- -as the Earth will not long put up with, recommend it how you may. This liberty turns out, before it have long continued in action, with all men flinging up their caps round it, to be, for the Working Millions, a liberty to die by want of food; for the Idle Thousands and Units, alas, a still more fatal liberty to live in want of work; to have no earnest duty to do in this God's-World any more. What becomes of a man in such predicament? Earth's Laws are silent; and Heaven's speak in a voice which is not heard. No work, and the ineradicable need of work, give rise to new very wondrous life-philosophies, new very wondrous life-practices! Democracy, the chase of Liberty in that direction, shall go its full course; unrestrainable by him of Pferdefuss-Quacksalber, or any of his household.

The Toiling Millions of Mankind, in most vital need and passionate instinctive desire of Guidance, shall cast away False-Guidance; and hope, for an hour, that No-Guidance will suffice them: but it can be for an hour only. The smallest item of human Slavery is the oppression of man by his Mock-Superiors; the palpablest, but I say at bottom, the

D 2

a

[ocr errors]

But op

smallest. Let him shake off such oppression, trample it indignantly under his feet; I blame him not, I pity and commend him. pression by your Mock-Superiors well shaken off, the grand problem yet remains to solve : That of finding government by your RealSuperiors! Alas, how shall we ever learn the solution of that, benighted, bewildered, sniffing, sneering, god-forgetting unfortunates as we are? It is a work for centuries; to be taught us by tribulations, confusions, insurrections, obstructions; who knows if not by conflagration and despair! It is a lesson inclusive of all other lessons; the hardest of all lessons to learn.'—Past and Present, pp. 293–295.

We know not what some of our ultra friends, in things civil and ecclesiastical, will say to this. To distrust, depreciate, and check the impulsive spirit of the age after this manner! To doubt

to dare to doubt the competency of the people to put Realities into the place of the Mockeries which now befool and oppress them! Of course every unit in every great community must see that in such sneers he is himself sniffed at, and will feel like the old prophet, that he' doth well to be angry. We ourselves, non-democratic as we are sometimes thought to be, share in some degree in this virtuous indignation. For, strange to say, our own views are much more radical than those of Mr. Carlyle. There is much truth in his sayings, of which some awkward illustrations have come up on the Continent during the last twelve months, but it is truth in profile, not truth fronting us with its own full aspect. We protest, once for all, against this idolatry of great men, and against this handing over the world as a perpetual heirloom to such men. We hold it to be the great duty of every true friend of his species to diminish the power of great men as far as possible, by endeavouring to diffuse as much greatness as may be through society at large. Let the power of government be restricted to an individual, or to a few, in the body politic, and in that degree you restrict the life proper to the said body to parts of the system, in place of giving it healthy diffusion through the whole. There is a sickliness at the core of this hero-worship. It is just the opposite of the good old proverb, “The man's best helped who helps himself.' Its tendency is to perpetuate in humanity generally a feeling of dependence, helplessness, and despair. It dooms. the multitude to passiveness, it gives warrant to the few above them in lording it over them. Some of our eloquent advocates of democracy, who make their own use of Mr. Carlyle's invectives against the sham' aristocracies of the past and present times, would perhaps find the new order of aristocrats, for which our author pleads, quite as little to their mind, were these self-willed gentry to make their appearance among us in great numbers. It is a little alarming, too, that Mr. Carlyle should be found so ingeniousin giving a plausible aspect to the tyrant's plea' in favour of the autocratic doings of his heroes. It would be easy to show that his casuistry in such cases becomes dangerously flexible. Be sure of it, our good democratic friends, Mr. Carlyle is not with you. The only thing you may expect. from his hands is a change of masters.

a

VII. With regard to Mr. Carlyle's Style, no man can pretend that it is either original or natural. Nevertheless, in his hands, it is not without its attractions, and to some of the peculiarities of his genius it is very convenient.

Hume has somewhere said, that when any language has been well worked, so that the finished use of it becomes an easy attainment, it is to be expected that some men will break away from the received standard, and will aim to arrest attention by extravagance and oddity. That the style of Mr. Carlyle is a reaction somewhat of this nature is obvious, but it is a reaction not wholly without reason. In common with John Foster, it. belongs not to the cast of his intellect to be taken with the platitudes which, during the last century, and even later, have been so often set forth in high-sounding Ciceronian rhetoric. The fastidiousness of this class of writers, about the nice selection of words, and the artificial structure of sentences, ending, for the most part, in a mouthy nothingness, could not fail greatly to offend the more masculine sense of such men. Better, in their view, almost anything, than the everlasting round of these mawkish euphonies. With this feeling we can sympathise. So we presume felt Edmund Burke and Junius, Sydney Smith and Hazlitt; and so we presume feels Mr. Macaulay, and more we could name. With these writers, language is not an affair of music, but of meaning; not an adjustment of sounds, but an instrument for the clear, keen, and forcible conveyance of thought. They retain much of the smoothness of their predecessors, but it is with a point and vigour of their own. Every sentence they utter is transparent, but at the same time seems to strike and ring as it passes you. This does not content Mr. Carlyle. In aiming to avoid the pompous mannerism of the moderns, he has fallen back upon the quaint mannerism of his predecessors. His alternative seems to lie between a smooth weakness or a rugged strength. The middle ground, which so many gifted men among his contemporaries have chosen, is not to his mind. Hooker is much more to his taste than Burke, Thomas Brown than Babington Macaulay. That he is wrong in this decision is a point on which we have no

doubt. The principles of taste, or we would rather say, the laws of language in composition, are not so indeterminate as our author

appears to assume. On this subject, the decisions practically given by the most cultivated mind, in the most favoured periods of history, should count for something. These decisions should have sufficed to suggest, that it would be possible to give a graphic force to our modern English without attempting to resuscitate the half-formed English of two centuries since for that purpose. It betrays weakness, and not strength, thus to borrow from the past when we should be giving to the present. With less eccentricity in this shape, Mr. Carlyle's writings would have found more readers among his contemporaries, and would have stood a better chance of being read by posterity. His gains from the grotesque oddness in which he indulges, have to be put over against his losses. The same effort to be natural, would have yielded him much more than the same return.

We are far, however, from meaning to say that this terse antique style is without its charm. When not so overcharged with affectations and uncouthness as to become absurd, and, except in the pages of Mr. Carlyle, unprecedented, there is in it a force and beauty which we feel to be genuine. In our old writers it harmonizes well with the grave and elaborate architecture, furniture, and costume we are wont to associate with the men and women of England some two or three centuries since. As spoken and written in those days, this fine old speech of ours is often laden with thought, deep in pathos, and rich in humour. Nothing could exceed the condensation, the precision, and the picturesqueness of which our language was shown to be susceptible by some of our best writers in the days of Elizabeth and James the First. The tongue which

gave such full and flexible conveyance to the fine conceptions of Ascham and Hooker, Spenser and Shakespere, is not itself at fault if readers ever sleep under it. It is manifest to us that Mr. Carlyle, with all his faults, shares in no mean degree in the genius of such men; and it is only when even such obsolete forms of utterance are not remote and strange enough to satisfy his passion for the unconventional, or more properly—to use a term of his own sortmunmodern, that he ever ceases to be interesting. So far as regards the topic in hand, you may feel at every step that little steady light is likely to be thrown upon it, and that to almost every second statement you have modification to propose, or exception to take; but with all this sense of failure in respect to what is, or should be, the main object of the writer, you come upon separate thoughts deserving note, or old thoughts presented with new vividness—upon touches of feeling, sallies of imagination, a play of humour, and a power of painting both scenes and characters, which beguile you from page to page with an interest that rarely falters.

Take the following sketch of some of our Milesian visitors as a specimen of artistic power. It is from the volume on Chartism, of which, as regards its main purport, we have spoken so little favourably:

Crowds of miserable Irish darken all our towns. The wild Milesian features, looking false ingenuity, restlessness, unreason, misery, and mockery, salute you on all highways and byways. The English coachman, as he whirls past, lashes the Milesian with his whip, curses him with his tongue; the Milesian is holding out his hat to beg. He is the sorest evil this country has to strive with. In his rags and laughing savagery he is there to undertake all work that can be done, by mere strength of hand and back, for wages that will purchase him potatoes. He needs only salt for condiment; he lodges to his mind in any pighutch or doghutch, roosts in outhouses; and wears a suit of tatters, the getting off and on of which is said to be a difficult operation, transacted only in festivals and the hightides of the calendar. The Saxon man, if he cannot work on these terms, finds no work. He, too, may be ignorant; but he has not sunk from decent manhood to squalid apehood: he cannot continue there. American forests lie untilled across the ocean ; the uncivilized Irishman, not by his strength, but by the opposite of strength, drives out the Saxon native, takes possession in his room. There abides he, in his squalor and unreason, in his falsity and drunken

violence, as the ready-made nucleus of degradation and disorder. Whosoever struggles, swimming with difficulty, may now find an example how the human being can exist, not swimming, but sunk. Let him sink, he is not the worst of men; not worse than this man. We have quarantines against pestilence, but there is no pestilence like that; and against it what quarantine is possible? It is lamentable to look upon.'—p. 28.

The next specimen we select almost at random. It is a note on the dispatch of Cromwell, written from the field of battle, after Naseby Fight;' and, short as it is, may suffice to show the pictorial vividness with which the writer can give, not only historical facts, but thoughts of such abstraction and depth, as to seem little susceptible of such management, though greatly needing it:

John Bunyan, I believe, is this night in Leicester-not yet writing his 'Pilgrim's Progress' on paper, but acting it on the face of the earth, with a brown matchlock on his shoulder. Or rather, without the matchlock, just at present; Leicester and he having been taken the other day. Harborough Church'is getting 'filled with prisoners'

« PreviousContinue »