« AnteriorContinuar »
The completion of this new edition of admirer, be attributed to Mr. Carlyle as its Mr. Carlyle's collected Works affords us a founder? What single point of scientific favorable opportunity for endeavoring to or historical fact has been originally discovform some estimate of the literary charac-'ered by him ? What germinating princiter of a man who has, perhaps, produced ple has he hit upon that can colligate and a greater impression upon his generation embrace our isolated experiences in a grasp than any other living writer.
of such tenaciousness that succeeding inIt is unquestionable that the greatness quirers may safely employ it in help of of a man is measured, partly by the range their own researches ?. Granted that he of his knowledge of truth, and partly by has popularized, made intelligible and picthe resoluteness of his action on the truth turesque, certain portions of history: it which he knows. But there is nd English- need not be said that Mr. Carlyle's fame man of the present day whose power ap- and influence has greatly transcended that pears, at first sight, so remote from those which any mere popularizer could obtain. two sources of power as Mr. Carlyle. There are, accordingly, those at the presHow, on the one hand, can vigorous prac-ent day who hold that Mr. Carlyle's influtical action be attributed to a man whose ence has rested on illegitimate grounds; life has been spent in writing, and in a kind that it has been a deceitful phantasm, a of writing peculiarly devoid of that speci- will-o'-the-wisp, luring unstable minds into ality and definite purpose which action de- marshy and unprofitable places. A brilmands ? On the other hand, what system liant writer, a writer of genius, these are of theoretical knowledge can, even by an words which all will apply to Mr. Carlyle,
for these are mere fine words, and do not Thomas Carlyle's Collected Works. London. guarantee any definite opinion on the part 1869–71. 33 vols. 8vo.
of those who utter them; but whether he NEW SERIES.–VOL. XVI., No. 2.
writes that which is true, solid, and need- tive class of men, the statesman and meful to be known, this is not on all sides ac-chanician to the active class. corded without dispute. This, then, is the The moral teacher, however, has at once point to which we must address ourselves. and at the same time a knowledge to gain, Can we, in Mr. Carlyle's work, lay bare and a work to perform; and he has not any solid core, any framework of reality the one more than the other. He must which remains when all the external appen- know the right path of conduct; but he dages have been stripped off, and when it can not know it unless he brings himself is set before the pure undazzled under- into it. He must teach others this right standing to approve or reject ? We hold path; but he can not teach them unless he that there is such ; nor do we exclude even brings them into it. A purely theoretical his later writings from this opinion, though knowledge of virtue is no knowledge at assuredly it is no siccum lumen which all; the true knowledge of virtue is a flame streams from the pages of the “ Latter-day that kindles into energy. To instruct men Pamphlets” and “Shooting Niagara." in goodness is, if the instruction takes effect,
First, what is it that Mr. Carlyle has at identical with making them good: as well tempted to do? What is it that we have could a man know the pain of fire before a right to expect from him ? He is, above he ever touched the flame as know the naall things, a teacher, a moral and political ture of goodness before he felt a good imteacher. He is, indeed, a historian as well; pulse. And thus those philosophers who and one of his most remarkable qualities, make morality to consist in the calculation his power of picturesque narrative, belongs of consequences, in calculating for our to him solely as a historian. But still it is happiness, lose the main element of it. in the other aspect that he comes forward They forget that we must have experiencmost prominently,
ed feelings, before we can begin to calcuNow the moral teacher is in a peculiar late about those feelings; that unless we position. He stands almost precisely in are animated and inspired by a virtuous the middle place between the man of ac- energy to start with, it is perfectly vain to tion and the man of theory. No man, in- put forward such an energy, and the hapdeed, is entirely theoretical, no man entire- piness attending it, as an end to be aimed ly practical. Even the chemist and the at. astronomer, though their main office is
The greatest moralists have therefore theoretical, namely, a declaration of facts, ever taught men to feel and to act, before yet by preference choose those facts out of teaching them to weigh and to calculate. their respective sciences which are most Look at examples. Has Thomas à Kemsubservient to future utility, to future ac- pis, or Bentham turned more men from a tion. They have an eye for the practical, selfish to an unselfish life? Is it from his and therefore the title of practical men moral theories, or from his delineation of can not be altogether refused to them. the pure and magnanimous character of Again, the historian, though his main busi- Socrates, that Plato gains most power ? ness is to narrate, is not indiscriminate in This is the first eminent merit we dishis selection of events and periods, but cern in Mr. Carlyle. He has understood narrates those which seem to him most to and embraced his function truly. With all touch on the needs of the day; so that he his breadth of culture, he has never refined also has a partly practical aim. On the himself away into a simple intellectual other hand, the statesman and mechanical thinker. He is all on fire, not merely to engineer are chiefly practical, but they can know what is right, but to have the right not help having theoretical bias as well; done. He ever refuses to confine himself if they do not accumulate knowledge, and to the office of a theorist. He appeals to a great deal of knowledge, moreover, for the age, to his country, to the men about which they have no immediate use, they him, in strong and urgent entreaty: "Do will be very narrow and feeble statesmen this; do not that.” When he treats of the or mechanicians. And thus Watt had in men of his time, or of preceding times, he him a great deal of the theorist; Thucy- does not discuss merely whether they have dides had in him something of the practi- held right opinions, but whether they have
But, on the whole, there can be acted rightly. Voltaire, Diderot, Fichteno doubt that the chemist, and astrono- these, whom others carelessly think of as mer, and historian, belong to the specula- speculatists—Mr. Carlyle insists on dealing with as men. He knows what an effect a rors, it can never be said of him that he man's life has on his opinions; and hence lacks the material of human nature ;" he he refuses to make any divorce between lays a broad and solid foundation, whatthe two. In the midst of many changes ever may be the eccentricities of the buildthat have come over him, this fundamental ing. characteristic has remained. Hence, too, And in his earlier writings it is plain that the simple, obvious nature of most of his he is merely laying a foundation, and no precepts; for truisms and platitudes, though more. That trenchant and aggressive the bane and abhorrence of the specula- style, which has been his best known qualitist, have often to be urged in practical life, ty of late, was then wholly absent from from the proneness of men to neglect what him. He examines; he does not yet is most evident. “Work, work;" "speak judge. the truth;" “shun cant;" “ have a clear A wide impartiality throughout characunderstanding;"—maxims like these form terizes the “Miscellanies.” The attitude no small part of Mr. Carlyle's ethics. is that of one who waits; of one who does
But yet over the precepts most easy of not yet know the truth, the perfect and comprehension he throws a mysterious highest course open to man; and who, as splendor by reminding men of their uni- not knowing it, surveys with the serenity versality. From eternity to eternity these of suspended force all who come professremain the same; Nature herself has or- ing to have the truth to impart. Such an dained them; in every time and in every attitude has a peculiar charm. When we place those prosper who obey them, those know a person's final conclusions, when he fall into ruin who disobey them. These has told us all that he has to impart, we are the Eternities, the Immensities, of which may indeed feel grateful to him, but we he speaks so much; nay, they are even feel also that we know the limits of that the divine Silences, for the force and vigor for which we are grateful. But in the yet of these truths lie not in their being spo- undeveloped germ there lies an infinite ken, but in their being acted upon. These possibility; there is no saying to what are the “ unwritten and sure laws of the height such a germ may grow, in what digods, that were not born to-day or yester- rections and forms it may unfold itself; day, but live forever, and no man knows and an eager curiosity gathers around this whence they came," of which Sophocles first working, which can not attend on the speaks. These are what Moses describes; perfectly developed plant. This is the "the commandment which I command beauty of childhood, but it is a beauty thee this day.
is not in which belongs to all those who, being past heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall childhood, yet know and feel that they go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto are in a state of growth and not of comus, that we may hear it, and do it? neither pletion. is it beyond the sea.
But And certainly, Mr. Carlyle did not affect the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy completion at the time when he wrote his mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest “Miscellanies.” Then, he was content to do it.” Taking these laws as his rule and receive all the figures of history or literastandard, Mr. Carlyle throws himself into ture on the unruffled surface of a mind the broad life of his own age and of other that could afford to be generous, that was ages; narrating, criticising, preaching, ad- not wedded to any exclusive hypothevising, with reverence or with scorn, with sis of its own, that could admire without laughter or with anger; passing in review falling down to worship, and sympathize statesmen, soldiers, writers, even quacks where strong admiration was impossible. and impostors. To none is he indifferent. Consider the following widely different
We are dealing here with the general characters: Burns, Novalis, Johnson, Bosline Mr. Carlyle has proposed to himself, well, Hume, Voltaire, Louis XVI. In inand not with his special successes or fail- cluding the last-named we are considering ures in that line ; and we hold that his type the “French Revolution” as well as the of moral teaching is the truest. Every “Miscellanies ;” and indeed they stand thing that he writes bears the impress of side by side, belonging, as they do, to the humanity; he is of our own flesh and same period of Mr. Carlyle's life. How blood, not a machine for calculating re- few are there who could have discerned sults. Whatever may be Mr. Carlyle's er- something to love and esteem in all the