« AnteriorContinuar »
he does not tread down and ravage. The symmetrical constructions of human art and thought, dispersed and upset, are piled under his hands into a vast mass of shapeless ruins, from the top of which he gesticulates and fights, like a conquering savage."
Carlyle's style is the outgrowth of his experience; in his case, as in all instances of genuine originality of expression, the style is the man.
His father was a man of vivid and forceful speech; the youthful Thomas when living with the sturdy Scotch of Dumfries heard much talk that was more picturesque than elegant. That he could write precise and conventional English we know from many of his letters and from some of his essays and books, but we know equally well from many of his letters that his vivid and picturesque style was a natural mode of expression. His friends have testified that he talked as he wrote. He was a great and fluent conversationalist, which may explain why his sentences on the printed page make their appeal to the ear; he was a wide reader with a tenacious memory, that explains his richness of allusion; he loved to look at a fact, which explains his picturesqueness. Saintsbury's characterization of his style shows a more sympathetic appreciation than Taine's:
"I should be very sorry to see it generally imitated, and though sometimes it was very nearly bad, it was at its best surpassed by no style for pure force and intense effect — full of lights and colors, now as fierce as those of fire, now as tender as those of fire also — full of voices covering the whole gamut from storm to whisper."
Personal Characteristics. The common notion that Carlyle was a dyspeptic grumbler has some basis of fact; he was dyspeptic and he did grumble. But fallacy lurks in common notions,” for they are usually but half-truths. Carlyle really had the biggest and kindest of hearts, the tenderest of sympathies. His gruffness was the husk needed to guard his sensibilities. While sunny is not exactly the adjective to describe him-he was too terribly in earnest for that he had great capacity for enjoyment. Dr. Gordon, a familiar friend, has said that he was “the pleasantest and heartiest fellow in the world, and most excellent company."
He was the soul of generosity. In the earlier days of his poverty and obscurity he was always ready to share all he had with the needy members of his family, and in his days of prosperity he gave half of his substance to the needy.
"If he could do a friendly act to any human being [says CrichtonBrowne), he did it, and care and personal exertion were not wanting. Intolerant of sentimentality, he was himself a deep well of sentiment undefiled.”
Biting and sarcastic as he was in passing judgments on his contemporaries, he never was malicious :
"In the long years that I was intimate with him [writes the brilliant and much criticized biographer, Froude) I never heard him tell a malicious story or say a malicious word of any human being.”
Refusing to become a preacher in an orthodox church, he has become a world-wide preacher proclaiming the eternal Gospel of Faith and Work. In his youth dismayed and bewildered he floundered about in the Bogs of Disbelief, but he soon set his feet on the firm rock of Faith.
“The agnostic doctrines (said he to Froude) were to all appearances like the finest flour, from which you might expect the most excellent bread, but when you came to feed on it you found it was powdered glass and you had been eating the deadliest poison."
And to his good old mother, who had had some misgivings as to what his writings meant, he wrote,
“I, in spite of all my dyspepsias and nervousness and hypochondrias, am still bent on being a very meritorious sort of character, ... useful I hope, whithersoever I go, in the good old cause, for which I beg you to believe that I cordially agree with you in feeling my chief interest, however we may differ in our mode of expressing it.”
He was not perfect; but his biographer need not apologize for the character of Thomas Carlyle. He was intolerant; he had no appreciation of the world of art and music; he never understood the work of men like Darwin; he misjudged democracy and upheld slavery; he seldom placed the proper evaluation
on the work of his contemporaries — yet what a grand figure he is!
John Tyndall, who with Lecky and Froude were the only ones of his London friends who had journeyed up to the Mainhill home at Ecclefechan, where the mortal remains were laid to rest, to rest by the side of his humble parents, instead of in Westminster Abbey where Dean Stanley had offered a place, wrote:
“In Switzerland I live in the immediate presence of a mountain, noble alike in form and mass. A bucket or two of water, whipped into a cloud, can obscure, if not efface that lofty peak. You would almost say that no peak could be there. But the cloud passes away, and the mountain in its solid grandeur remains. Thus, when all temporary dust is laid, will stand out, erect and clear, the massive figure of Carlyle."
Sartor Resartus. — Sartor Resartus, or the Tailor Retailored, purports to be the meditations of an original German professor upon the philosophy of clothes. It is hard to realize now that the British public, as well as some of the critics, were deceived by Carlyle's palpable subterfuge. The central idea is that as clothes cover the body, as the body covers the spirit, so the visible world is but the covering of the invisible spirit of things. This is no new thought, and, as has been pointed out, Carlyle was familiar with the expression of the idea by Swift in his Tale of a Tub, but Carlyle's treatment is altogether original.
The book is divided into three parts, the first relating to the discovery of a German work on clothes by Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, a work which Carlyle is going to edit; there are also many digressions and philosophical observations. The second part is biographical, relating to the life of Teufelsdröckh under such chapters as Genesis, Idyllic, Pedagogy, and Romance. In the three famous chapters, The Everlasting No, Center of Indifference, and The Everlasting Yea, we have an account of the spiritual progress of the hero from the dark night of despair to the light of hope. The third book indulges in half-philosophical, half-poetical reflections upon such topics as symbols, and natural supernaturalism.
Carlyle himself has said that Sartor is a symbolical myth all,” but he does admit that the episode related in the Everlasting No in the Rue St. Thomas de l'Enfer (in fact, Leith Walk) is biographical. He should have admitted more, for an intense writer like Carlyle cannot escape self-revelation. This does not mean that Sartor Resartus is a biography of Carlyle, but it does mean that many incidents in his own life suggested incidents in the life of Teufelsdröckh and that the spiritual life, the feelings and thoughts of the German professor are the thoughts and feelings of Carlyle.
In spite of the brilliancy of his work, or perhaps because of it, for the public seldom accepts the unconventional, Sartor Resartus had a hard time to find the light of day. Its strangeness of language, its boldness of thought repelled the wary publisher. It is easy now for the critic to praise its idealism, its vividness, its poetic rhapsodies, its picturesque style — “every sentence alive to the finger-tips” — but then both the British publisher and the British public ignored it. Fraser, who finally published it in his magazine, first offered to publish it in book form if Carlyle would give him £150. In book form it first appeared in America where his genius, as in the case of Browning, first received enthusiastic recognition. The present popularity of Sartor Resartus is attested by the fact that recently in a single year nine separate editions appeared.
The following passages will give some idea of the style and philosophy in Sartor Resartus:
“To the eye of vulgar logic, says he [Teufelsdröckh), what is man? An omnivorous Biped that wears Breeches. To the eye of Pure Reason, what is he? A Soul, and Spirit, and divine Apparition. Round his mysterious Me, there lies, under all those wool-rags, a Garment of Flesh (or of Senses), contextured in the Loom of Heaven; whereby he is revealed to his like, and dwells with them in UNION and DIVISION; and sees and fashions for himself a Universe, with azure Starry Spaces, and long Thousands of Years."
A passage that expresses his contempt for poor teaching and his ideal of real teaching is found in the chapter on Pedagogy:
“My teachers, says he [Teufelsdröckh), were hide-bound Pedants, without knowledge of man's nature or of boy's; or of aught save their lexicons and quarterly account-books. ... How can an inanimate, mechanical Gerund-grinder, the like of whom will, in a subsequent century, be manufactured at Nürnberg out of wood and leather, foster the growth of anything; much more of Mind, which grows, not like a vegetable, by having its roots littered with etymological compost, but like a Spirit, by mysterious contact of Spirit; Thought kindling itself at the fire of living Thought? How shall he give kindling, in whose own inward man there is no live coal, but all is burnt out to a dead grammatical cinder?”
Here is an expression of his deep tenderness:
“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 so weary, so heavy-laden; and thy Bed of Rest is but a Grave. O my Brother, my Brother, why can I not shelter thee in my bosom, and wipe away all tears from thy eyes!”
The most familiar of all sayings is this, “ Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it, in God's name!”
The French Revolution. On the 12th of January, 1837, Carlyle finished the French Revolution. To his wife he remarked, “I can tell the world you have not had for a hundred years any book that comes more direct and flamingly from the heart of a loving man.” Carlyle did not throw off his books in a light and genial mood; the French Revolution saw the light of publicity after struggles and heart-burnings. The public is familiar with the story of how the manuscript of the first volume had been loaned to J. S. Mill, who was deeply interested in the work, having at one time contemplated writing a history himself, and upon abandoning the idea had generously loaned Carlyle all the books he had collected on the subject. Through an accident the manuscript was burned by a careless servant who mistook the papers for rubbish. Mill, chagrined and sorrowful, spent two hours in apologizing to the household at No. 5 Cheyne Row. When he had left the only comment of this “ roaring Thor," this petulant complainer and irascible grumbler, for such is the popular impression, was this, “Well, Mill, poor fellow, is