Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

was terribly, tragically, in earnest. By what right do we ask for ease and happiness? "Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion!" Do not strive to be happy, try to do something, to "produce" something. "Love not pleasure; love God. This is the Everlasting Yea, wherein whoso walks and works, it is well with him."

Life. Thomas Carlyle was born at Ecclefechan, a little village in the Scotch Lowlands, in 1795. The place consisted of but "a single street," down one side of which ran an open brook. Ayrshire is about sixty miles to the northwest, the district which had brought forth another great Scotch peasant, Robert Burns. Across the border, some thirty miles to the south, was Cockermouth, the birthplace of Wordsworth. Carlyle's father was a stone-mason, a stern, upright, and deeply religious man, habitually silent, but capable at times of pithy and vigorous speech. The simple household of the Carlyles was the wholesome, austere, God-fearing home of the Scotch peasant. There was deep family affection, but it did not readily show itself in any outward expression. "An inflexible element of authority," Carlyle wrote, "surrounded us all." So in these early years, Carlyle lived "not a joyful life but a safe and quiet one." His early education did not differ materially from that of many another Scotch boy of his class. He attended the village school, and was then sent to the grammar school at Annan, a small town some eight miles distant. His parents, proud of his ability, were anxious to make him a minister, so at fourteen he entered the University of Edinburgh, having walked the ninety miles that lay between Ecclefechan and the capital. He did not distinguish himself as a student, although he showed an aptitude for mathematics, and he left the University in 1813 without

[ocr errors]

taking a degree. He afterwards declared that "out of England and Spain ours was the worst of all hitherto discovered Universities," but we must not take Carlyle's humorous exaggeration too literally, as we must remember that his original or independent nature was impatient under the routine of formal or conventional methods.

Carlyle was only eighteen when he left the University; an unformed country boy, knowing little as yet of life or of himself. His true path was not yet clear to him. He tried school-teaching for a few years. He abandoned the religious beliefs of his childhood, and gave up the idea of entering the ministry. In 1818 he settled in Edinburgh and began to study law, but the lectures filled him with weariness and disgust. His health was poor; he slept badly, and already he was depressed and miserable from dyspepsia, his almost lifelong tormentor. Beside the drag and discipline of physical suffering, beside the uncertainty of his future, and the practical problem of making a living, Carlyle had to fight a battle which to him was far more real and vital. His soul was in a torment of doubt; he was by nature truly religious, but doubt "had darkened into unbelief," and his terrible need was to find a faith.

In Sartor Resartus, his most self-revealing if not his greatest work, Carlyle has told us the story of these critical years. He has told us how he called out for Truth, though the Heavens should crush him for following her, and how he reached at length the appointed hour of deliverance, when, in a mysterious flash of conversion, he came forth free, independent, defiant. These years made Carlyle what he was. In them he "found himself," and came through stress and suffering to know his faith, his place, and his work.

66

Entrance into Literature. While Carlyle was in Edinburgh, feeling his way toward his career, he supported himself chiefly by private teaching. After a time he was able to add to his modest income by literary work. He began in an humble way for "bread and butter wages;" contributing several articles to the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and translating a geometry from the French for £50. He also began to learn German, and this study had an important influence on his life and work. German literature seemed to reveal to him a new heaven and a new earth," and fortunately for Carlyle this enthusiasm was awakened at a time when there was a growing interest among Englishmen in the great writers of Germany. Carlyle's studies thus fell in with the popular demand, and he became an interpreter of the German philosophers and poets to his contemporaries. In 1822 he contributed an article on Faust to the New Edinburgh Review; his translation of Goethe's romance Wilhelm Meister appeared in 1824; his Life of Schiller was published in book form in 1825; and his Specimens of German Romance, in 1827. The year before the publication of the book last named he married Miss Jane Welsh, the daughter of a provincial surgeon of good family and considerable local reputation. On her father's death Miss Welsh had inherited a small farm at Craigenputtock, in Dumfriesshire, and there Carlyle and his wife settled, in 1828. The little farmhouse was set solitary in the midst of a somewhat dreary tract of moorland, and here, shut out from the world, Carlyle threw himself at his work with a characteristic intensity. He had left behind him the time of hackwork and translations, and was reaching out toward something that should more truly represent him. He wrote a number

of essays for the Edinburgh, among them his unapproachable study of Burns; and here he composed Sartor Resartus. Much had been lived through to make this book, and into it Carlyle poured what he had gained, in good measure and running over. Carlyle's personality is always present in his writings, but never more strongly than here. Midway in this mortal life, he delivered to us the deepest things that life and suffering had taught him, the essence of his message. In 1833 Sartor Resartus began to appear in Fraser's Magazine, finding but few readers among a bewildered and indifferent public. In the year following, Carlyle took a decisive step in leaving Craigenputtock and settling in London. There he lived, during the fortyseven years that remained to him, in a house in Chelsea, which became the resort of many distinguished men, and was thought of by many, says Professor Masson, "as the home of the real king of British letters." Up to this time Carlyle's life had been a stubborn fight with poverty. He had won recognition from the discriminating few; but he would write in his own way and no other, and as yet he had gained nothing like a popular recognition. In a few years this was entirely changed. His popularity was begun by the appearance of his French Revolution, in 1837. About the same time he gave the first of several courses of lectures, which made his strange, rugged figure and impassioned earnestness familiar to London audiences. He "toiled terribly," bringing forth his great works with indescribable stress and effort. In 1866, shortly after he had fought his way through a mighty task- his Life of Frederick the Great he was made Lord Rector of the University of Edinburgh, a post of great honor. At last his own country had honored her prophet, but

the triumph was shattered by the sudden death of Mrs. Carlyle, "for forty years the true and loving helpmate of her husband." Fifteen years longer Carlyle himself lingered on; wandering about the Chelsea Embankment or Battersea Park, living over in an old man's dreams that past which he recorded in his Reminiscences. Strength had altogether left him and life was a weariness. He died, February 4, 1881, and was buried, according to his wish, beside his family in the little churchyard at Ecclefechan.

Works and Character. Three qualities in Carlyle's work can hardly fail to impress us, originality, earnestness, and power; and these three qualities combined to give him an almost unequaled influence upon his time. Men might accept or combat his teachings, they could not disregard them. He made men think; he startled them in the midst of their complacent satisfaction by showing them other aspects of their boasted "progress;" he thundered against some of their most comfortable convictions; he showed them that many a familiar thing which they passed over as commonplace had in it something miraculous and divine. Thus, whether he roused protest or enthusiasm, Carlyle always stirred or stimulated. His very manner of writing abrupt, exclamatory, touched with grim humor, and highly charged as with some explosive forces arrested and held the attention of his bewildered readers.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Carlyle wrote a great many books, biographies, histories, literary essays, studies of the social and political questions of his day, but nearly all of his work is suggested by or intended to illustrate a few leading principles or ideas. These principles are the expression of Carlyle's inmost nature; they embody the most

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »