Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[graphic]
[ocr errors]

ite haunt, of many literary men. At dif- | that the first draft was the best. Though ferent times between 1837 and 1840, Mr. welcomed, as it deserved to be, by Mill Carlyle delivered at Willis's Rooms and and Stirling, the “French Revolution" Portian Square courses of lectures on was not at once successful. The bulk of some of his favorite subjects -“German readers did not hail it as the great prose Literature," “ The History of Literature," poem of the century. They were not en“ The Revolutions of Modern Europe," raptured by the Iliad-like swiftness and and " Heroes and Hero-Worship.” Each vividness of the narrative, the sustained of these lectures was a considerable event passion, as if the whole had been written in literature. Their effect was such as it at a sitting, the full fow of poetry, with is difficult now to conceive. The audience touches of grandeur and tenderness; and included most of the chief men of letters those pages like the pictures from Salvaof the day. “ The accomplished and dis- tor Rosa's brush, in which a flash of lighttinguished, the beautiful, the wise, some ning reveals, side by side, the horrors of thing of what is best in England, have nature and her pastoral sweetness. · Lanlistened patiently to my rude words,” is dor, indeed, hailed the “ French Revoluhis own account of his hearers. They tion” as the best book published in his were alternately shocked and entranced. time, and recognized the coming of a new There was uncertainty whether his burn- literary potentate; but his vision was ing words, delivered in an odd sing-song exceptionally acute. The incongruities, and unquestionable Doric, were wild monstrosities of style, and the author's rhapsodies or the sublime mutterings of a disdain for what an admirer called the true prophet, who had a message to de- “ feudalities of literature ”struck all readliver to modern society. But at all events ers, and it was only some of them who it was a man of a wholly new order who thought much more of the intrinsic beauty spoke, and people of all shades and of the jewel than of the strange setting. schools — the Parthians, and Medes, and About 1839 began a new phase of activElamites of London were amazed. ity. Mr. Carlyle had imbibed a deep disCrabbe Robinson, who attended the whole trust and even abhorrence of all the of one course, says of a certain lecture, somewhat mechanical expedients for the “It gave great satisfaction, for it had un amelioration of society then in fashion. common thoughts, and was delivered with The favorite schemes of social reform unusual animation." As for Carlyle's were then even more crude than they Lectures," writes Bunsen, “they are very generally are ; Mr. Carlyle despised tliem striking, rugged thoughts, not ready made all. The philanthropists whom he met up for any political or religious system; with were not the most practical or the thrown at people's heads, by which most wisest of their kind; Mr. Carlyle thought of his audience are sadly startled.” " At them, for the most part, mealy-mouthed, tended Carlyle's lecture," writes Mac- engaged in ineffectual dallying and parleyready, "The Hero as a Prophet,' on ing with the stern, invincible verities of which he descanted with a fervor and life, and coaxing and coddling those upon eloquence that only complete conviction whom nature had pronounced her irreverof truth could give. I was charmed, car. sible sentences of extermination. From ried away by him. Met Browning there.” the depth of society, from torchlight meet

The “ French Revolution,” the first ings held by Chartists in Birmingham and work to which Mr. Carlyle put his name, other towns, from the agricultural counappeared in 1837. It would have been ties where “Swing,was burning ricks or published sooner but for the famous dis- throwing down toll-gates, from Ireland, aster which befell the manuscript of the where an overgrown population no longer first volume. The author had lent it to found potatoes enough to satisfy its siinMr. John Stuart Mill; the latter handed ple wants, came sullen mutterings of disit to Mrs. Taylor, his future wife. What content, ominous signs of commotions to became of it was never exactly known. come, perplexity, tribulation, and distress Mrs. Taylor left the manuscript for some among nations. There was no lack of days on her writing-table; when wanted nostrums or social doctors. Mr. Carlyle it could nowhere be found; and the most pronounced them one and all vain and probable explanation of its disappearance unprofitable. In a series of works pubwas the suggestion that a servant had lished from 1839 to 1850 — in “Chartused the manuscript to light the fire. ism,” “ Past and Present,” and “LatterCarlyle at once set to work to reproduce day Pamphlets ” — he poured unmeasured from bis notes the lost volume; he swiftly scorn and contumely on the false teachers finished his task, but he always thought and blind guides of the time. It was the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

kernel of his philosophy that legislation, nothing but the good sense of 1881. Who reform or ballot bills, statutory meas- would not now echo Mr. Carlyle's protests ures of social improvement of any kind, against the supposed omnipotence of would do of themselves next to no good. Parliament or of the possibility of saving Reforms to be effectual must go deeper nations by the use of the ballot-box? than an English Parliament, of whose Who now believes that men can be instan. perfect wisdom he had grave doubts, was taneously reformed in battalions and plalikely to tolerate. “Christian philan- toons, or that human nature can be remade thropy and other most amiable-looking, by any order of the Poor Law commisbut most baseless, and, in the end, most sioners ? Who does not own that the baneful and all-bewildering jargon;" change in our colonies from servitude to "philanthropisms ” issuing in a univer- idleness and squalor, temporary, it is true, sal sluggard and scoundrel protection was not an unmixed blessing to those society;” the crowds of amiable simple- most concerned ? If all wise men are tons sunk in “deep froth oceans of benev- now haunted by a sense of the impotence olence ;” Bentham, a " bore of the first of legislation to effect deep changes for magnitude,” with his immense baggage good, and of the necessity of working out of formulæ, and his tedious iteration of reformations really worth anything in the “the greatest happiness of the greatest souls of individuals, to whom do they owe number;" the political economists mum. this so much as to Mr. Carlyle? Who bling, barren truisms or equally unfruitful recognized the duty of spreading educaparadoxes about supply and demand ; tion earlier and more clearly than he? Malthusians preaching to deaf ears the We say nothing of the keen eye for the most unacceptable of gospels; so-called detection of rogues and impostors, under statesmen collecting with impotent hands all disguises, which Mr. Carlyle's political information about the Condition of En- painphlets reveal; or of those ingenious gland Question which they could not ap- epithets of his which, attached to some ply, and letting things slide to chaos and blustering, swelling piece of fraud, acted perdition ; Ireland sluttishly starving from like a stone tied to the neck of a dog flung age to age on Act of Parliament freedom; into deep water. It is enough to say that the braying of Exeter Hall; the helpless again and again he reminded, in his own babbling of Parliament; and liberty made way, his generation of stern truths which a pretext, in the West Indies and else. it was in danger of forgetting. where, for flying in the face of the great In 1845 he published “Oliver Crom. law that, if a man work not, neither shall he well's Letters and Speeches, with Elucieat, - these were some of the butts of his dations.” The work was well received. It scorn and contempt. It would be scarcely passed rapidly through several editions. worth while to try to measure the exact in a petition addressed in 1839 to the value of these jeremiads. Mr. Carlyle House of Commons on the subject of the was much too eloquently wrathful. His Copyright Bill, Mr. Carlyle had said of his criticisms were often grotesque carica literary labors that they had “found hithtures. They abounded in contradictions, erto, in money or money's worth, small and it was always pretty clear that Mr. recompense or none,” and he was by Carlyle found it much easier to rail at no means sure of ever getting any. His large than to suggest any working substi- “ Oliver Cromwell,” however, was at once tutes for the systems which he despised. widely read; and in his preface to the De Quincey was unanswerable when he second edition he thought proper to admit said to Carlyle, " You've shown or you've that, contrary to his expectations, “the made another hole in the tin kettle of so- work had spread itself abroad with some ciety; how do you propose to tinker it ?" degree of impetus.” No one could fail to Harsh and crude judgments are to be met see how the great Protector, as he really with in almost every page, and much of was, had at last been disinterred from the teaching, so far as it is intelligible beneath Pelions and Ossas of calumny and consistent, is preposterous and im- and rubbish, heaped upon him by generapracticable. But, dismissing all expecta- tions of detractors. We are familiar tion of finding precise suggestions, it is enough by this time with the process of astonishing to note how, under uncouth, historical whitewashing. None of the rhapsodical phraseology, lie many ideas attempts of the kind have, however, stood which are now the common property of the test of time so well as Mr. Carlyle's. most educated men. The novelties and From the gibbet on which Cromwell had paradoxes of 1840 are, to a large extent, hung for nearly two centuries he has been

[ocr errors]
[graphic]

the "

[ocr errors]

a

66

taken down forever. In 1850 appeared | dozen other characters, move about viv

Latter-day Pamphlets." Mr. Car- idly as they did in life. And yet the ten lyle's next work, published in 1851, was volumes are painful to read. Peculiari, the life of his friend, John Sterling, one ties of diction, embarrassing in others of of the most charming biographies in the Mr. Carlyle's books, have grown to be language. Why Sterling's “Life” should wearisome and vexatious ; little tricks have been again written, after Archdea-j and contortions of manner are repeated con Hare had told the simple, uneventful without mercy ; miserable petty details story, was a priori anything but clear, but are pushed into the foreground; whole posterity, would not willingly lose this pages are written in a species of crabbed record of a beautiful friendship. Carlyle shorthand; the speech of ordinary mortals had first met Sterling accidentally at the is abandoned ; and sometimes we can de India Office in company with John Stuart tect in the writer a sense of weariness and Mill. The talk on this occasion laid the a desire to tumble out in any fashion the foundations of a lasting intercourse. Ster- multitude of somewhat dreary facts which ling's mother took to Mrs. Carlyle in a he had collected. When he visited Varnkindly, maternal way, and the two fami- hagen von Ense in 1858, he told his host, lies formed many ties. “We had uncon- as we gather from Von Ense's “Tagesciously made an acquisition wliich grew bücher," that his “ Friedrichwas “the richer and wholesomer every new year, and poorest, most troublesome, and arduous ranks now, even seen in the pale moonlight piece of work he had ever undertaken." of memory,

and must ever rank, as among “No satisfaction in it at all, only labor and the precious possessions of life.” The sorrow. What the devil had I to do with personal feeling which guided Mr. Car- your Frederick ?” As to which Von Ense Tyle's pen gave a lighter touch and more observes, “It must have cost him un. genial glow to the style; the book is full heard-of labor to understand Frederick," of sunny sketches of men and things; adding in his snappish, cantankerous way, and a benign fate, similar to that which " if he does understand him.” descended upon young Edward King, the Since his “Frederick” was published hero of “Lycidas," has given to John Mr. Carlyle had undertaken no large work. Sterling in these pages an immortality But he had not been altogether silent. which his fugitive writings and his amia. During the American war was published ble virtues and beautiful endowments his half-contemptuous, we had almost would not have procured him.

said, truculent account of the issues in Between 1858 and 1865 appeared the ten his “Ilias in Nuce," enunciating his old volumes of Mr. Carlyle's laborious “ His- predilection for the peculiar institution. tory of Frederick the Great.” On this in 1865 he was elected rector of Edinwork Mr. Carlyle spent more time and burgh University. Next year he delivtrouble than on any of his other books. ered an address to the students on the It is a marvel of industry. He has not “Choice of Books.” It was full of serene been outdone by the German writers on wisdom, the apt words of one who looked the subject and Ranke, Preuss, and benignly down from the summit of a life Droysen are in the field — in minute and well spent on the beginners in the strug. painful investigation. Every accessible gle. Those who remember the old man's memoir and book bearing on the subject appearance, as he talked to the lads bewas read and collated. Mr. Carlyle went fore him with amiable gravity of manner, to Germany in 1858 for the sake of his his courageous, hopeful words, did not book. He visited Zarndorff, Leuthen, expect that in a few hours exceeding sorLiegnitz, Sorr, Mollwitz, Prague, and row would berall him. During his absence many other places famous in the wars of froin London his wife died. Her death Frederick; and the vivid descriptions to was quite unlooked for; while she was be found in the later volumes -for exam- driving in the Park she suddenly expired. ple, the description of the scenes of the When the coachman stopped he found battles of Chotusitz and Dettingen — we his mistress lifeless. Carlyle might well owe to this journey. In none of his say that "the light of his life had quite works is more genius discernible. No- gone out;” and the letters which he where does his humor flow more copiously wrote to his friends are full of exceeding and brilliantiy. Who that has read his sorrow, and were at times the voice of “ Tobacco Parliament" will ever forget it? one for whom existence has nothing left. The figures of Wilhelmina, Old Papa, “ A most sorry dog-kennel it oftenest all Excellency Robinson, Old Dessau, and a seems to me, and wise words, if one even

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

had them, to be only thrown away upon | little house at Chelsea, just to hear this it. Basta, basta, I for the most part say genial Timon inveigh and harangue of it, and look with longings towards the against shams, wiggeries, and other cusstill country where at last we and our tomary themes. His talk was in many beloved ones shall be together again. respects like his writings — equally picAmen, amen.' It is the saddest featuresque, vehement, lit up with wayward ture of old age," he wrote, just a year fashes of humor, abounding in songafter the death of his wife, in a letter to like refrains, rarely falling into those his friend, Mr. Erskine of Linlathen, ingeniously rotesque entanglements of “that the old man has to see himself phraseology which disfigure his later daily growing more lonely ; reduced to pages, and set off by his homely Scotch commune with inarticulate eternities, and accent, rugged, peasant-like as the day the loved ones, now unresponsive, who when first he quitted Nithsdale. There have preceded him thither. Well, well, were not many greater pleasures than to there is blessedness in this too, if we sit by his armchair and hear him tell, take it well. There is grandeur in it, if as he loved to tell, when years came on, also an extent of sombre sadness which of old Annandale folk and ways, or descant is new to one; nor is hope quite wanting, on his favorite themes, turning round nor the clear conviction that those whom sharply every now and then upon the we most screen from sore pain and mis- listener while he uttered some crashing ery are now safe and at rest. It lifts one dogma, such as “ Lies – lies are the very to real kingship withal, real for the first devil." There have been men of more time in this scene of things. Courage, astonishing powers of talk — men with my friend, let us endure patiently, let us more varied information at their comact piously, to the end.”

mand; men who could quote chapter and In 1867 the discussions about Parlia- verse in a way which was not distinctive mentary reform revived in Mr. Carlyle of him. But Mr. Carlyle's talk had a his old thoughts about democracy, and charm of its own which no one could rehe published in Macmillan's Magazine sist. He put so much genius, so much “Shooting Niagara, and After?” Through of himself, so much aggressive fervor our columns, he gave to the world in 1870, into a talk with a friend or a stranger who his trenchant views on the Franco-Ger- was to his mind. It was natural to him, man War, denouncing “the cheap pity and as natural as it was to Dr. Johnson, to newspaper lamentation over fallen and talk well. Let us quote on this head the afflicted France," and expressing his opin. testimony of Margaret Fuller, herself no ion that it would be well for her and mean talker, and, with all her admiration, everybody if Bismarck took Alsace and a little vexed, as we may see, at Mr. Carso much of Lorraine as he wanted. Tyle's inability to let others shine. In Mr. Carlyle's last published writings spite of its transcendental twang, the dewere some contributions in 1875 to Fra- scription will serve to show how he ser's Magazine, on John Knox's portrait. looked in 1846 to a clever woman. His active literary life had thus extended over about half a century.

His talk is still an amazement and splendor Mr. Carlyle has shunned many literary scarcely to be faced with steady eyes. He honors which were always within his does not converse, only harangues. Carlyle reach. He did not accept the grand allows no one a chance, but bears down all cross of the Bath, and on the death of opposition, not only by his wit and onset of Manzoni, in 1875, he was presented with words, resistless in their sharpness as so many

bayonets, but by actual physical superiority, the Prussian order “ for inerit" - an hon. raising his voice and rushing on his opponent or given by the knights of the order and with a torrent of sound. This is not in the confirmed by the sovereign, and limited least from unwillingness to allow freedom to to thirty German and as many foreign others; no man would more enjoy a manly reknights.

sistance to his thought. But it is the impulse It was knowing Mr. Carlyle imperfectly of a mind accustomed to follow out its own to know him only by his books. One impulses as the hawk its prey, and which must have talked with him, or, to be more knows not how to stop in the chase. . . . He accurate, allowed him to talk, in order to kind of satirical, heroical, critical poem, with

sings rather than talks. He pours upon you a understand how his influence had burnt regular cadences, and generally catching up itself so deep into all men who knew him near the beginning some singular epithet which well. In his prime, strangers of all sorts serves as a refrain when his song is full. came from the ends of the earth to the He puts out his chin till it looks like the beak

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

of a bird of prey, and his eyes Aash bright in these things; he will not tarry over the stinctive meanings like Jove's bird.

niceties of attorney logic. He does not Scarcely less interesting than his talk travel by the common highways; he is were his letters. They are models of on the wing; and there is neither obstawhat letters ought to be. Even those cle nor boundary thought of in his flight. which were written in his old age were Justness of view as a critic is not to be little infected with the vices of manner expected of him. His prejudices have which spoiled his published writings. always been immense and wayward. You We have lying before us letters written must not look for sober, well-ordered in as pure and liquid a style as that reasoning; for him the time of argument of the essay on Burns or 'on Goethe. is always past; his business is to make They will no doubt be gathered together; good bis victory, to force upon you his and if, as is understood, he has had more conviction. As Johnson refuted' Berkethan one possible Boswell, who knows ley by “striking his foot with mighty that his memory may not have the fate of force against a stone," so with equal coJohnson's — his pithy sayings being re- gency Mr. Carlyle has disposed of many membered and quoted when Carlylese is disagreeable theories by dubbing their forgotten as much as Johnsonese ? He authors M’Crowdy or M’Quirk. His was a copious letter-writter, and answered books are a sort of Puritanical syllabus, readily and with rare forbearance the fre. not less condemnatory of the modern quent miscellaneous appeals made to him. spirit than that which issued from the His clever young countrymen, coming to Vatican. His social and political theoLondon with unborn projects in their ries are, in the main, but aspirations heads, were apt to believe that they had after impossible ideals — vain attempts, a prescriptive right to lay before him their heroic, but ineffectual, to bring back the difficulties and plans, and to claim full past and yet to retain the richest fruits and precise counsel. He rarely failed to of progress. His extravagances of style respond with affectionate solicitude; and lie on the surface, and his disciples have many a young author has owed to him found it easy to copy and outdo bis wise advice which saved him from making tricks and foibles of manner and his reshipwreck. Mr. Carlyle's purse was open, curring touches of grotesqueness. They but his charity was of a rarer kind than have not always copied also the sound that which is content with occasionally sense which made atonement and which subscribing a few pounds. He would controlled all that he did. Many historienter into details and give counsel at once ans have fancied that they were following precise, minute, and judicious.

in Mr. Carlyle's footsteps because they In early life he was a swift writer. poohpoohed the operation of general Later, however, his habits of composition causes and principles, paraded some changed. It is said that the sight of the trumpery scrap of information about the manuscript of a well-known author, with clothes or “property” of their heroes, numerous interlineations and erasures, ostentatiously cleared up a wretched date, was a revelation to him of the pains or struck out a new mode of spelling an which were necessary for the best work unimportant name. We have seen clumsy manship. Certain it is that he corrected imitators who cumbered their pages with and re-corrected his later works; pieces meaningless and garish details, or interof manuscript were interpolated or pasted polated labored rhapsodies, which were in, and the finished production was some- feeble reminiscences or hollow echoes of times very wonderful in appearance. Sauerteig. The commonplaces of Mr.

This is not the fit time to try to meas. Carlyle have been the stock in trade of a ure Mr. Carlyle's services or the worth terribly wearisome group of writers, who of his works. They have stood many assumed the nod of Jove, but could not years before the world; each one has hurl his thunderbolts. Unfortunately long ago had his say about them; the they aped other and graver faults, and general judgment of mankind on their supposed that they were animated by Mr. shortcomings and faults has been pro- Carlyle's spirit when they applauded ev. nounced. It will scarcely be estioned ery exhibition of brute force and insulted that the quantity of the ore of pure truth the weaker but not less noble elements of to be extracted from them is small. Pre-human nature. Mr. Carlyle is responsicise definitions, reservations, and qualifi- ble for much in modern literature which cations are not in his way; he is too eager it is not pleasant to look upon; and some and too much atire to be particular about l of his own pages, with their exultant ve

« VorigeDoorgaan »