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vital things he had learned from life, and, right or wrong, they show us the man himself.
In the first place, we find in Carlyle's work, as in Carlyle himself, a passionate desire to tear away everything that is superficial or misleading, and so lay bare the hidden truth or reality that lies beneath. Men, he held, were continually deceived because they judged merely by the outward appearance, and so he labored to make them look deeper and see things as they really
This determination to get down to the fundamental reality beneath the surface of all things is the chief motive in Sartor Resartus (or the tailor repatched). In this book, Carlyle treats in a fantastic but profoundly serious fashion of “The philosophy of clothes." By “clothes" he means not merely clothing in the ordinary sense, but also all those visible shapes or forms in which the invisible or spiritual manifests itself. “All forms,' he says, "whereby spirit manifests itself to sense, whether outwardly or in the imagination, are clothes; man's body is but his 'earthly vesture;' the universe itself, with its manifold production and reproduction, is but the living garment of God.” Carlyle wrote in an age of science, when men were busy investigating and explaining the physical, or material, universe; but he regarded the labors of the scientists with an amused contempt. To his eyes, most scientists, with their mechanical theories, are too absorbed in what they call matter. They are so busy with the outward appearance, with the clothes, that they forget the underlying reality, which is spirit, or God. The true “force, essence, and reality” is the universal presence and empire of an unspeakable Power, but the modern man talks of “Forces of Nature, Laws of Nature," and does not think of that Power as a divine thing,
“not even as one thing at all, but as a set of things instructive enough, saleable, curious, good for propelling steam-ships. With our sciences and cyclopedias, we are apt to forget the divineness in these laboratories of ours.'
Histories and Biographies. — This same impatience with whatever seems to him mechanical, formal, and superficial reappears, in a somewhat different form, in Carlyle's view of history. Human institutions, human systems of government, were made by man and are the outward expression of his will. But the vital or essential thing was not the system, it was the will that made, or the man that sustained it. When a system of government, or any institution, no longer does what it was made to do, or means what it once meant, then it is like a body without the spirit, or like worn-out clothes, ready to be cast aside. This is the thought that runs through Carlyle's French Revolution. The early kings of France were strong men originally they became kings because they were strong enough to rule. But later, weak men came to sit on the throne, not because they could rule but because their ancestors had been strong. These false kings were shams, and the French Revolution was the terrible protest of the people against them. The sham kings and the sham government lasted a long time, but in the end truth was stronger than falsehood, men were stronger than systems, and the will that long ago had set up kings at last struck them down. The French Revolution thus became to Carlyle a dramatic illustration of the fact that as surely as water rises to its own level, so in the long course of history truth and right will ultimately come to prevail. Had it not taken place, he tells us, he would have despaired of the world; as it
is, “Verily there is a reward for the righteous, doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth." One other feature of Carlyle's view of history is
more important, if we would understand the purpose and spirit of much of his work. This is the belief that humanity progresses chiefly through the work and leadership of its heroes or great men. These leaders, or heroes, have appeared under many different shapes, or worked in different ways; some of them have been prophets, some poets, some priests, some kings. But they have all been earnest, sincere; and they have guided the course of history. Believing that the few who are wise must guide and rule the many who are foolish, Carlyle had no confidence in democracy, or government by the majority. It is the man, not the system, that must save the state, not ballot boxes or electoral suffrages,” but the true Captain, obedient to the eternal laws of Nature, who can carry the ship round Cape Horn. This is the view of history set forth in Carlyle's Heroes and Hero-Worship, and insisted on in many of his other books. Indeed, Carlyle's longer biographies, his lives of Frederick the Great and Cromwell, are detailed studies of the hero, or strong man.
Place in his Age. — We may think that Carlyle's theory of history was unsound, his notion that the world should be governed by its great men unpractical, but there is no doubt that he was one of the greatest moral and spiritual forces of his time. Rus... looked up to him as his "friend and guide,” and his influence is seen in the work of Tennyson and Browning, the greatest poets of the age.
The fierce, primitive power in Carlyle, the force that moved men, is shown in an extraordinary style. The power of this style at its best is very different from that which comes from mere
literary skill. With all its strange mannerisms, and apparent affectations, one feels that a strong man is speaking to us out of the depths of his soul, as one man seldom dares to speak to another in this solitary and conventional world. His French Revolution, he tells us,
comes direct and flaming from the heart of a living man." He has the power of the poet, as well as the patient industry of the historian, and he can re-create the past, and make it live again before our eyes. He can be savage and terrible, but with all his sternness he has a wonderful gentleness and compassion. “Poor, wandering, wayward man! Art thou not tried, and beaten with stripes, even as I am? Ever whether thou bear the Royal mantle or the Beggar's gabardine, art thou not so weary, so heavy-laden: and thy bed of Rest is but a grave. Oh, my Brother, my Brother! why cannot I shelter thee in my bosom, and wipe away all tears from thy eyes !”
Carlyle was not faultless. He was often gloomy, morose, irritable over little things, sometimes too absorbed in his work to do his full duty to those about him, but when we look at his life as a whole, when we consider his fearlessness in speaking the truth as he saw it, his power, and the nobility of his aims, we must feel that he was a truly great man. This boy who had played barefoot in the single street of a Scotch village, this son of a stone-mason, became the teacher of two continents. He was honored; yet in an age of science and democracy he was contemptuous of the results of modern science, and distrustful of democracy. In the midst of industrial competition, and the eager haste to be rich, he stood apart — the prophet of the spiritual and the unseen. When we see him clearly as he was, does he not stand before us as one of his own heroes, a brave, truth
loving, deep-seeing man, who wrote “without thought of himself what he knew to be needful for the people of his time to hear, if the will to hear were in them.”
A name frequently associated with Carlyle's is that of John Ruskin, one of the best loved and most ridiculed of men in England. His sympathies were very broad and wide. He loved beauty as did John Keats; he loved Nature as Wordsworth did, from its revelation in earth and sky to its most minute forms in crystals and flowers; and he loved truth and hated shams as cordially as did Carlyle. The love of beauty and the zeal for righteousness were thus vital principles of Ruskin's work. He was the greatest art critic of his generation; the man who did most to help the British public to see and love beauty as revealed in the great works of art; and he was also a great moral and religious teacher, fighting the battle of his time against avarice, vulgar materialism, and unbelief. In Ruskin, the love of beauty and the zeal for righteousness were not separate or conflicting motives, they were inseparably joined. When he wrote of beautiful pictures, of statues, of noble buildings, he saw in them a moral and spiritual significance. When he wrote later, on the social problems of his time, his love of art and beauty entered largely into his effort for their solution.
His Life. - John Ruskin was born in London in 1819. His parents were of Scotch origin and from them he inherited his upright character and simple piety. His mother, from his infancy, had “devoted him to God,” hoping that he would enter the Church.