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Central Literary Magazine
It must be borne in mind that this Magazine is rientral in Politics and Religion; ils pages are open to a free expression of all shades of opinion without leaning to any.
Right noble age-fellow, whose speech and thought
Proclaim thee other than the supple throng
Who glide Life's custom-smoothed path along-
I offer thee. Receive the humble song
A tribute of the feeble to the strong,
Illustrious Schiller's limner, unto thee
His toil its light, and what fires thine? The free
THOMAS COOPER. Dedicatory Sonnet.
The men who deeply and permanently influence English thought are not very numerous. Like other nations we have a plethora of mediocrities, but few men of exceptional and representative genius. In any department we seldom meet with more than one or two who quicken the intelligence and reach the springs of national character; and even they differ very widely in respect to the influence they exert upon their age and upon mankind. Some are valuable mainly for the knowledge
they accumulate and diffuse, others for the deeds they achieve ; others, again, for their attitudes of soul and the special quality of their being. The first are remarkable for what they have, the second for what they do, the third for what they are. Among this latter class stands Thomas Carlyle.
His mind has been a quickening and fertilising power in the intellectual and moral culture of the nation; it has expanded inspiration and awakened aspiration in a fashion quite unique, and there is, perhaps, no living man who can claim to have wielded a wider, a deeper, or more beneficent influence upon the age. It is impossible to gauge his authority over contemporary literature, or his practical effect upon general character. He, more than any man, has taught his countrymen to reverence realities and to despise shams, to respect the most enlightened convictions so long as they are true and real, but not a day longer. Our noblest statesmen, the men of fine and sensitive honour and an earnestness which knows no bounds, have drunk deep draughts of inspiration from him; our best preachers, too, who have preferred true greatness to a cheap and fleeting popularity, have owned their obligations to Carlyle, even while they disclaimed some of his tenets; and there is hardly a single student who has not at one time or another been spellbound by the force of his genius. His very failings have an air of grandeur about them, and altogether he is a phenomenon like many of his heroes, and he will never fail of a niche in the world's Pantheon, which he has helped both to cleanse and to re-fill. We learn that he was originally intended for the Church, but religious controversy proved extremely distasteful to him. He was impatient of its littleness and of the bitterness which it provoked, and he made up his mind that literature and not preaching was his true vocation. The unique thought and prophetic earnestness of the man arrested the attention of philosophic thinkers and working philanthropists, and it was not long before the singular power of his genius was recognised. His style, it is needless to say, is inseparable without violence from his thought. Language, he himself has told us, “is the flesh-garment, the body and vesture of thought." And truly, his speech is not nimble as a dancing-master, but strides like a Colossus, and treads heavily like Hercules. It is like his mind, massive, strong, rugged, and clear. By constitutional habit, preference, and acquirement, Carlyle is Teutonic. He has caught inspiration from the greatest German thinkers-Goethe, Schiller, Jean Paul Richterand has struck out boldly for himself in a richly-composite, forcible, and original style. His pictures are all life-like, his images full of expressiveness and condensation; and though he abounds in tropes, it is as the sky abounds in stars, with but an occasional haze. Nothing can be more amusing than the comments which a first glance at his works elicits from the ordinary reader. His bluntness repels, his enigmatic questioning perplexes, his Sardonic scorn of time-honoured but effete institutions alarms the timorous and dependent mind. At one moment he seems to gaze down into the very depths of the soul to rouse up all the earnest feeling of which it is capable; at another, to take all standing ground
from beneath it, and leaves it weltering in chaos, helpless amid a whole host of insoluble problems relating to God and man, heaven and earth. Logical analysis is impossible, and for a moment the mind trembles on giddy heights ; and yet a thoughtful reader cannot help feeling that beneath all this seeming chaos there is a world of intellectual order, a chain of sequence underlying all this speculation. The surface is turbulent and stormy, but down below there are calm depths of philosophic fact, which form the foundation of convictions solid as a rock. His rough iconoclasm prepares the way for positive truth, and does not leave the student floundering in hopeless and helpless bewilderment. Carlyle's genius is essentially creative and constructive. He breaks the clod only that he may sow the seed; he destroys much that unreflecting men have been largely accustomed to lean upon; but for a sandy he gives a rocky foundation, and however fragmentary his thoughts appear, they are never disjointed and unmethodic. He has proved a present help to young minds in intellectual trouble. In that period of transition from the traditions of youth to the maturer convictions of ripening manhood, he has been to countless men a real tower of strength. In him the timid enquirer has found a strong man who has struggled with the tough problems of existence, faced and allayed great doubts, conquered intellectual fear, and sphered no inconsiderable light for himself and for the age in which he lives. Here is another Job probing and questioning all things in heaven and earth, resolved as far as in him lies to know what can be known by faith or sight of man.
Further, his mind is not only great but many-sided in its greatness, and he has attained to eminence as philosopher, historian, essayist, and social reformer. It is quite impossible to do anything like justice to him in all these capacities, or even in one of them, within the limited space allotted to me; so I must content myself by attempting to delineate some of the chief characteristics of his genius, and the striking features of his philosophy of the world and of life.
Carlyle has been properly classified among the prophets. In the old Hebrew sense a prophet was not as is commonly alleged a revealer of unborn events, one who discloses the secrets of future
and goes before his time by many centuries, but a man with a clear eye to apprehend the subtle law which in the moral not less than in the physical universe, eternally binds together cause and effect. A seer, by sheer power and clearness of moral insight, grasps the ultimate issues of events transpiring under his own eyes. He foresees the autumn in the spring, and discerns in the present the seeds and possibilities of the future. And truly, Carlyle deserves for himself the praise he gives to Mirabeau for having an eye.
To him more than to most men belongs the gift of a farreaching discernment. A piercing imagination places him immediately at the centre, and unveils to him the springs of action. Only at occasional intervals is mankind blessed with a genius of this transcendent order, a prophetic mind dowered with wondrous faculty of insight, which seems to despise the ordinary slow processes of knowledge, and comes at once by force of intuition at the very heart of things. Carlyle's genius is of this nature. Philosophic depth sparkles up from him as solid wit and lambent light. There is magic power in his genius which does not belong to mere talent, however industrious. His description of his own Teufelsdrockh might well serve for a faithful picture of himself. “In our wild seer, shaggy, unkempt, like a Baptist living on locusts and wild honey, there is an untutored energy, a silent, as it were, unconscious strength, which, except in the higher walks of literature, must be rare. Many a deep glance, and often with unspeakable precision, has he cast into mysterious nature, and the still more mysterious life of man! Wonderful it is with what cutting words, now and then, he severs asunder the confusion, shears down were it furlongs deep into the true centre of the matter, and there not only hits the nail on the head, but with crushing force smites it home and buries it."
Carlyle's philosophy of things is scattered all through his writings, but its main elements are to be found in “Sartor Resartus: the Philosophy of Clothes," one of the profoundest and most remarkable literary productions of this, or of any age. This book professes to unfold the inner life and opinions of one Herr Teufelsdrockh, a German professor. Like several of Carlyle's characters, Teufelsdrockh is a creature of the imagination, and was created to express the ideas and sentiments of his biographer. He is a purely ideal character, like Smellfungus, Dryasdust, and others. Sartor Resartus is a brilliant and triumphant attack upon materialistic philosophy and utilitarian ethics. It aims to prove the utter inadequacy of every unspiritual interpretation of the world and of human life. It laughs to scorn the vulgar materialism which despises every force that cannot be brought under the focus of the microscope, or which may not be made to pass through the crucible. It holds up to well-merited ridicule the system which sees nothing in nature or in man but atoms and atomic motion-a series of phenomena produced by finite matter, fatally linked together and destined to repeat themselves circular movement, not progress. This style of thought is very common in our day, and takes on itself several shapes. It is metaphysical in the speculations of Comte and the School of Modern Positivists; it is scientific in the “lay sermons” of Huxley, and the lectures of Tyndal ; it is agnostic in the philosophy of Herbert Spencer; and practically aggressive in the vagrant theories of modern Secularists. This same method of thought has also numerous representatives in France and Germany, prominent among whom are Häckel and Schopenhauer. Carlyle is the prophet of an entirely different faith. He does not pretend to have sounded all the depths of nature, or to have solved the enigmas of human life. He is too sensible of his own imperfection to dogmatise on subjects which must remain for ever open, and with which no man can be familiar. He is, moreover, genuinely modest, as true greatness always is in front of the profound mysteries of existence. is only the inexperienced amateur who is flippant and irreverent when dealing with the deepest truths of life, the speculative questioner who has merely dabbled in philosophy, or the scientific tyro who puts a fly under a microscope and thinks himself learned. Carlyle labours to show that behind the form and texture of this visible universe there dwells an invisible and eternal mind, and beneath the flesh or cloth garments of man there is finite mind akin to the Infinite and of quite imperishable worth. In countless ways he pours contempt upon the theories which reduce the universe to a machine, its laws to mere mechanical movements, and man himself to an automaton. He declares the universe to be utterly inexplicable, except upon the recognition of spontaneous intelligence equal to the evolution of all phenomena, creating its own laws, and sustaining all that it creates. " Thinkest thou that there is aught motionless, without force and utterly dead? For matter, were it never so despicable, is spirit; the manifestation of spirit, were it never so honourable, can it be more? The thing visible, nay, the thing imagined, the thing in any way conceived as visible, what is it but a garment, a clothing of the higher Celestial Invisible.” In a variety of forms, and clothed in the choicest imagery, this idea of an indwelling mind at the heart of the universe occurs again and again in Carlyle's writings. It is the everlasting fact upon which his mind rests, and to which it reverts in every emergency and crisis of thought. He never grows weary of it, but seems incessantly to strain after thoughts and words wherewith to give it shape and expression. Often, and sometimes in the most grotesque fashion, he rebukes sordid insensibility to the Ever-present and the Ever-near. Nor is he afraid of facing the spectres which appear to stand in the way of his most cherished conviction. The men who affect to find a Gospel in Mirabeau's System of Nature, Volney's Ruins of Empires, Bayle's Dictionary, Voltaire's Philosophical Novels, Byron's Cain, Shelley's Queen Mab, will witness their gravest doubts boldly dealt with by the Chelsea prophet. He recognises the anomalous and inexplicable in the universe, but does not forget to show why things look anomalous and defective. The fault lies not with Providence but rather with human shortsightedness. “System of Nature," he says, "to the wisest man, wide as is his vision, nature remains of quite infinite depth, of quite infinite expansion, and all experience thereof limits itself to some few computed centuries and measured square miles. To the minnow, every cranny and pebble, and quality, and accident of its little native creek may have become familiar, but does the minnow understand the ocean-tides, and periodic currents, the trade-winds and monsoons, and moon's eclipses, by all of which the condition of its little creek is regulated, and may from time to time be overset and reversed ? Such a minnow is man; his creek, this planet, earth; his ocean, the immeasurable all ; his monsoons and periodic currents, the mysterious course of Providence through Æons and Eons. We speak of the volume of nature ; and truly a volume it is, whose author and writer is God. To read it! Dost thou, does man, so much as well know the alphabet thereof? It is a volume written in celestial hieroglyphics, in the true sacred writing of which even prophets are happy that they can read here a line and there a line."