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WITH his settlement in London one period in the progress of Carlyle's mind may be said to have closed. He had passed through a severe mental crisis, in the course of which he had found consolation and new life in study of the new thought of Germany. Had it not been for Goethe, he declared to Crabb Robinson in 1832, he would not then have been alive. The results of his German studies he had put before the world in a series of essays, which are, as John Sterling justly said, “the most important ever contributed by one man to periodical literature.” Sartor Resartus was the culminating point in his earlier mental history. Written in his thirtysixth year, it contained his mature convictions on first principles as applicable to the individual,
and it sounded the note of preparation for the larger application of them to social and political movements. The third book of Sartor Ilesartus contains Carlyle's views upon modern society, its evils, and the mode of curing them. All that he wrote subsequently was either in amplification of the principles there laid down, or in application of them to particular men or events. It is not, of course, meant that there was at any time a definite break in the progress of Carlyle's mind; there was only an unfolding. And this process was so gradual that the two lines of interest, the personal and the social, appear side by side even in his earliest writings. Thus in the essays entitled “Characteristics" and “Signs of the Times,” there is a definite move towards the larger ground, which was not, however, at that time, fully occupied. In Sartor Ilesartus the interest is divided between the experiences of an individual soul, and the musings of a philosopher on man and on society. But with that book autobiography ends. Once the curtain has been raised upon the stormy progress of a soul to the haven of the ‘Everlasting Yea,' and when the curtain falls, no more is said on that episode. His own struggle having ended in triumph, complete but sad, Carlyle then turned his attention to the struggles of mankind. Having formed the deepest convictions as to what are the permanent elements necessary for the welfare of the race, he proceeded to illustrate his doctrines in the great field of history. And this was exactly the method by which such a mind as Carlyle's could produce the most influence. His studies in the higher mathematics, and his successful writings on that science, show that, had he so chosen, he could have been one of the most profound of thinkers upon first principles. But he early passed from the study of mathematics to the study of men, and no sooner had he done so than he caught fire. In the whole range of literary history it would be difficult to find another instance of one who so completely possessed both the logical and intuitional faculty, and who passed so triumphantly from the method of the one to that of the other. From the time when Carlyle ceased his mathematical studies and began to concern himself specially with biography and history, he abandoned the method of cold analysis, and achieved insight into his subject by sympathising with it and loving it. For a man of this mental temper history offered the best possible means of illustrating and enforcing his beliefs. He could not state them in shapely propositions, but he would show their working in the life of man.
The French Revolution was, of all other historical events, the most likely to attract Carlyle's attention. He was born just as Napoleon's “whiff of grapeshot" blew the last remnants of it into space. The Napoleonic wars were coincident with his youth; Waterloo was fought when he was verging on his twentieth year. It was the general feeling that the Revolution had closed an era in history. Accordingly, as early as 1829, we find Carlyle writing on Voltaire, the precursor of the Revolution, and in 1833, just a year before his final removal to London, he completed the essay on Diderot. Later in the same year he went deeper into the Revolutionary period, and produced that remarkable piece of work entitled, “Count Cagliostro: in Two Flights.” In many respects this is one of the most characteristic of Carlyle's writings. It is full of those mannerisms which $."** were now grafted permanently on to his literary style. It abounds in quotations from the mythical “Herr Sauerteig,” and the use of German idioms is frequent. Some sentences are a quarter of a page long; others are broken off in the first clause. Every
* Fraser's Magazine, Nos. 48, 44 (July and August 1833).
where are interrogations, exclamations and apostrophes, and the imperative mood is pressed into constant service. Short as the sketch is, it is in its power, its insight, its contrasts, its grouping, and its humour, a fit introduction to the great History that was to follow. No sooner had Carlyle settled finally in London than he applied himself in earnest to write a narrrative of the French Revolution. He studied his subject deeply for some three years, throwing off meantime essays on “The Diamond Necklace,” “Mirabeau,” and the “Parliamentary History of the French Revolution.” The work progressed slowly, and when at last the manuscript of the first volume was complete, a disaster befell it which will in future be spoken of as one of the worst “calamities of authors.” For a long time the story was very imperfectly known, and several different versions of it have from time to time appeared in print. Of these one of the earliest is probably that of Emerson, as told by him to “January Searle.” “When,” said Emerson, “Carlyle had finished the volume of the Bastille
MS. of First
* Emerson, His Life and Writings. By January Searle, 1855.