Sue Young Histories

Thomas Carlyle 1795 - 1881

July 14, 2008

Thomas Carlyle 1795 – 1881Thomas Carlyle 1795 – 1881 was a Scottish essayist, satirist, and historian, whose work was highly influential during the Victorian era.

Thomas Carlyle was a patient of homeopath James Manby Gully (who was a friend of the family) and a friend of homeopath Robert Masters Theobald, (‘… though Dr. Garth Wilkinson was the friend, and often the physician, of Carlyle, Froude, Dickens, Tennyson…’ Anon, Sotheran’s price current of literature, (1 Jan 1920). Page 111). On 9th December 1864, John Aitken Carlyle (1801-1879), the younger brother of Thomas Carlyle, wrote to John Rutherford Russell regarding his homeopathic treatment of his wife and his brother Thomas Carlyle (see letter transcript below*).

Thomas Carlyle was also a friend of John Stuart Blackie, Charles Locock 1st Baronet, Aurelio Saffi,

Thomas Carlyle was interested in Emanuel Swedenborg, and he was a friend of homeopath James John Garth Wilkinson who linked together many influential thinkers of his day including  Robert Browning, Charles DickensRalph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, James Anthony Froude, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James Snr, George MacDonald, Edward Maitland, the Oliphants, Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Thomas Carlyle was also a friend of homeopath Moncure Daniel Conway, who linked together Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Charles Lyell, and Charles Darwin. James Manby Gully and his two sisters visited The Carlyles in summer 1851.

Thomas Carlyle was the leading British disciple of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was an ardent advocate of homeopathy. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe compared Samuel Hahnemann to Paracelsus.

Thomas Carlyle displayed his knowledge of homeopathy when he wrote his satire on the ’Morrison’s Pill’, saying that:

It were infinitely handier if we had a Morrison’s Pill, Act of Parliament or remedial measure, which men could swallow, one good time, then go on in their old courses, cleared from all miseries and mischiefs! Unluckily, we have none such; unluckily the Heavens themselves, in their rich pharmacopoeia, contain none such. There is no ‘thing’ be done that will cure you”.

Carlyle argues that such a cure must come from within:

A radical universal alteration of your regimen and way of life… that so the inner foundations of life may begin again… to irradiate and purify your bloated, swollen, foul existence, drawing nigh, as at present, to nameless death!…

Judge if such a diagnosis, any Morrison’s Pill is like to be discoverable!”

Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfries and Galloway, and was educated at Annan Academy, Annan. He was powerfully influenced by his family’s (and his nation’s) strong Calvinism.

After attending the University of Edinburgh, Carlyle became a mathematics teacher, first in Annan and then in Kirkcaldy, where Carlyle became close friends with the mystic Edward Irving.

In 1819 - 1821, Carlyle went back to the University of Edinburgh, where he suffered an intense crisis of faith and conversion that would provide the material for Sartor Resartus. He also began reading deeply in German literature.

Carlyle’s thinking was heavily influenced by German Transcendentalism, in particular the work of Fichte. He established himself as an expert on German literature in a series of essays for Fraser’s Magazine, and by translating German writers, notably Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Given the enigmatic nature of Sartor Resartus it is not surprising that it was first received with little success. Its popularity developed over the next few years and it was published in book form in Boston 1836 with a preface by Ralph Waldo Emerson, influencing the development of New England Transcendentalism. The first English edition followed in 1838…

In 1834, Carlyle moved to London from Craigenputtock and began to move among celebrated company. Within the United Kingdom Carlyle’s success was assured by the publication of his three-volume work The French Revolution, A History in 1837. After the completed manuscript of the first volume was accidentally burned by the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s maid, Carlyle wrote the second and third volumes before rewriting the first from scratch.

The resulting work was filled with a passionate intensity, hitherto unknown in historical writing. In a politically charged Europe, filled with fears and hopes of revolution, Carlyle’s account of the motivations and urges that inspired the events in France seemed powerfully relevant.

Carlyle’s style of writing emphasised this, continually stressing the immediacy of the action – often using the present tense. For Carlyle, chaotic events demanded what he called ‘heroes’ to take control over the competing forces erupting within society.

While not denying the importance of economic and practical explanations for events, he saw these forces as essentially ‘spiritual’ in character – the hopes and aspirations of people that took the form of ideas, and were often ossified into ideologies (‘formulas’ or ’isms’, as he called them).

In Carlyle’s view only dynamic individuals could master events and direct these spiritual energies effectively. As soon as ideological ‘formulas’ replaced heroic human action society became dehumanised.

This dehumanisation of society was a theme pursued in later books. In Past and Present (1843), Carlyle sounded a note of conservative scepticism that could later be seen in Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin: he compared the lives of the dissipated 19th century man and a medieval abbot.

For Carlyle the monastic community was unified by human and spiritual values, while modern culture deified impersonal economic forces and abstract theories of human ‘rights’ and natural ‘laws’.

Communal values were collapsing into isolated individualism and ruthless laissez-faireCapitalism, justified by what he called the ”dismal science” of economics

As one of the very few philosophers who witnessed the industrial revolution but still kept a transcendental non-materialistic view of the world, Thomas Carlyle made an attempt to draw a picture of the development of human intellect by using historical people as coordinates and accorded the Prophet Muhammad a special place in the book under the chapter title “Hero as a Prophet”.

In his work, Carlyle declared his admiration with a passionate championship of Muhammad as a Hegelian agent of reform, insisting on his sincerity and commenting ‘how one man single-handedly, could weld warring tribes and wandering Bedouins into a most powerful and civilized nation in less than two decades.’

For Carlyle the hero was somewhat similar to Aristotle’s “Magnanimous” man — a person who flourished in the fullest sense. However, for Carlyle, unlike Aristotle, the world was filled with contradictions with which the hero had to deal. All heroes will be flawed. Their heroism lay in their creative energy in the face of these difficulties, not in their moral perfection.

To sneer at such a person for their failings is the philosophy of those who seek comfort in the conventional. Carlyle called this ‘valetism’, from the expression ‘no man is a hero to his valet‘.

All these books were influential in their day, especially on writers such as Charles Dickens and John Ruskin. However, after the Revolutions of 1848 and political agitations in the United Kingdom, Carlyle published a collection of essays entitled ”Latter-Day Pamphlets” (1850) in which he attacked democracy as an absurd social ideal, while equally condemning hereditary aristocratic leadership.

The latter was deadening, the former nonsensical: as though truth could be discovered by totting up votes. Government should come from those most able. But how we were to recognise the ablest, and to follow their lead, was something Carlyle could not clearly say.

In later writings Carlyle sought to examine instances of heroic leadership in history. The ”Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell” (1845) presented a positive image of Cromwell: someone who attempted to weld order from the conflicting forces of reform in his own day. Carlyle sought to make Cromwell’s words live in their own terms by quoting him directly, and then commenting on the significance of these words in the troubled context of the time. Again this was intended to make the ‘past’ ‘present’ to his readers…

The Everlasting Yea is Carlyle’s name for the spirit of faith in God in an express attitude of clear, resolute, steady, and uncompromising antagonism to The Everlasting No, and the principle that there is no such thing as faith in God except in such antagonism against the spirit opposed to God.

_The Everlasting No_ is Carlyle’s name for the spirit of unbelief in God, especially as it manifested itself in his own, or rather Teufelsdröckh’s, warfare against it; the spirit, which, as embodied in the Mephistopheles of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is for ever denying,—der stets verneint—the reality of the divine in the thoughts, the character, and the life of humanity, and has a malicious pleasure in scoffing at everything high and noble as hollow and void.

In Sartor Resartus__, the narrator moves from _The Everlasting No_ to The Everlasting Yea, but only through ”The Center of Indifference,” which is a position not merely of agnosticism, but also of detachment. Only after reducing desires and certainty and aiming at a Buddha-like “indifference” can the narrator move toward an affirmation. In some ways, this is similar to the contemporary philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’sleap of faith” in Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

In regards to the above mentioned “antagonism,” one might note that William Blake famously wrote that “without contraries is no progression,” and Carlyle’s progress from the everlasting nay to the everlasting yea was not to be found in the “Centre of Indifference” (as he called it) but in Natural Supernaturalism, a Transcendental philosophy of the divine within the everyday…

His last major work was the epic life of Frederick the Great (1858-1865). In this Carlyle tried to show how a heroic leader can forge a state, and help create a new moral culture for a nation. For Carlyle, Frederick epitomized the transition from the liberal Enlightenment ideals of the eighteenth century to a new modern culture of spiritual dynamism: embodied by Germany, its thought and its polity.

The book is most famous for its vivid, arguably very biased, portrayal of Frederick’s battles, in which Carlyle communicated his vision of almost overwhelming chaos mastered by leadership of genius.

However, the effort involved in the writing of the book took its toll on Carlyle, who became increasingly depressed, and subject to various probably psychosomatic ailments. Its mixed reception also contributed to Carlyle’s decreased literary output.

Of interest:

Joseph Neuberg 1806 - 1867, Carlyle’s friend and ‘voluntary secretry’ for over 20 years (Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Carlyle Reminiscences, (Kessinger Publishing, 2005). Page 191), was also a friend of James John Garth Wilkinson and lodged with him in 1849-50 (Clement John Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson; A Memoir of His Life, with a Selection of His Letters. (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1911). Page 34).,John_Aitken%28DNB00%29 See also John Aitken Carlyle (1801-1879) *‘… *MD Edinburgh 1825In 1862 Dr. Carlyle married a rich widow with several children, and she died in 1854. After her death he resided for several years in Edinburgh, ultimately settling in Dumfriesshire. He devoted much of his time in later years to the study of the Icelandic language and literature…‘ ‘… Three page letter by John Aitken Carlyle… addressed to Dr John Rutherford Russell… ‘ discussing John Rutherford Russell’s homeopathic treatment of Mrs. J A Carlyle and Thomas Carlyle… from ‘… *The Hill, Dumfries, 9th December, 1864. My dear Sir, My brother has forwarded to me your kind note, & I am very sorry indeed that I don’t happen to be in London to accept the offer of admission to those private lectures of Saffi *[Aurelio Saffi (1819-1890)*] __on Italian Literature. I feel sure beforehand that they will be very interesting & instructive, for he is a most genial man & knows the subject very well. Had I seen him I should have asked how he would translate I’accoglieva (Purg I. 13), as I have just been looking through a translation I made of the Purgatorio after publication of the Inferno, I am rather embarrassed by that word. I am going to Edinburgh for some of the winter months, tomorrow & my address there is 62 Hanover Street. __I was in London for a few days in October, having gone back with my sister-in-law who had been in Scotland for her health; & I called one afternoon at your old place in Harley Street, I was very sorry to miss you, but had not time to call in Piccadilly that day & left town the day following. I had a most pleasant visit from your nephew last year in Hanover Street, who gave me news of you, & also from your brother at Jedburgh.  Mrs. Carlyle is now as well as usual again, & takes better care of herself than she ever did before. She recovered in Scotland – not by any medicine, but by proper diet & regimen, under the care of Dr. Russell of Thornhill & his wife who are very old friends & have a nice country house below Drumlanrig Castle. __My brother seems to be near the end of his task, & is almost worn out with the fatigue it has cost him, but his habits are simple & regular & he keeps up wonderfully. Please excuse this hurried & rather incoherent note- __I remain, __Yours very sincerely, J. __A. Carlyle. __A new edition of the Inferno is now wanted, as I hear from the publishers*…’


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