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“COULD ambition always choose its own path, and were Will in human undertakings synonymous with Faculty, all truly ambitious men would be Men of Letters,” says Carlyle, in his paper on Voltaire. To this path Carlyle was impelled from within and compelled from without. For this career he had every needed furtherance. He was, in the best sense of the word, well-born. His forefathers for many generations were Scottish farmers, tilling their own acres, stout of body, strong of mind, and devotedly attached to the Kirk. “I can trace,” he says, “the father, the son, and the grandson ; and the family type is quite distinct upon each of them.”
Carlyle had every advantage of training to be obtained at the University of Edinburgh ; in early
manhood he had enough need for work to induce him to labor, and not enough to break him down. At thirty a happy marriage gave him a competence sufficient to enable him to pursue his chosen career without the necessity of doing task-work for his daily bread. His “Collected Works” comprise something more than thirty moderate volumes ; his writings not included in this collection would fill two or three more. The earliest of them were written when he was twenty-five years of age, the latest when he was eighty; and we are told that now, when he has reached the age of fourscore and four, he has undertaken to write his Autobiography.
Besides being, as he styles himself, a “Writer of Books,” he is the most notable “ Talker” of the generation. “Never,” says Mr. Milburn, the blind preacher, “ had I any idea of what eloquent talk meant until I listened to Carlyle.” Of his tabletalk Mr. Milburn has given some examples, treasured up in a memory which, quickened by his infirmity of vision, enables him to reproduce word for word the whole of a long conversation or discourse. From the lips of the blind preacher we have written down many pages of this table-talk, some of which, mainly autobiographical, will be here given. The life of Carlyle, however, is his writings, and mainly from these we propose to endeavor to set forth what kind of work he has done, and what manner of man he came to be.