Scottish-born British historian and essayist who was leading figure in the Victorian era. Carlyle's collected works (1974) comprises 30 volumes. In the age which put faith in legislation, Carlyle believed in a leader, a hero, whom people must recognize and worship. In his famous work ON HEROES AND HERO WORSHIP (1841) his examples ranged from Mohammed to Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson.
"No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men." (Heroes and Hero Worship)
Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfries and Galloway, as the son of a stonemason and small farmer. He was brought up in a strict Calvinist household. At the age of 15 he went to University of Edinburgh, receiving his B.A. in 1813. From 1813 to 1818 he studied for the ministry of the Church of Scotland, but abandoned this course and studied law for a while.
Carlyle taught at Annan Academy (1814-16), at Kircaldy Grammar School (1816-18), and privately in Edinburgh (1818-22). During this time he worked at his LIFE OF SCHILLER, which was first published by the London Magazine in 1823-24. He wrote contributions for Brewter's Edinburgh Encyclopedia, also contributing to such journals as Edinburgh Review and Fraser's Magazine. From 1824 he was a full-time writer and undertook thorough study of German literature, especially Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Carlyle's essays on German philosophy introduced many new ideas to the British public. He also produced a translation of a work by Goethe, which was highly acclaimed.
In 1826 Carlyle married Jane Baillie Welsh, whom he had met when he was still far from famous. 1823 she wrote to him: "Your Friend I will be, your truest most devoted friend, while I breath[e] the breath of life; but your wife! never never! Not though you were as rich as Croesus, as honoured and renowned as you yet shall be - " (16 September 1823) Carlyle answered two days later: "You love me as a sister, and will not wed: I love you in all possible senses of the world, and will not wed, any more than you. Does this reassure you?" Alfred Lord Tennyson defended their marriage, when it was suggested that it was a mistake: "By any other arrangement, four people would have been unhappy instead of two."
Jane was a doctor's daughter, well-educated, pretty, and her wit made her an excellent letterwriter - her circle of correspondents included many eminent Victorians. Later Virginia Woolf called her "the most caustic, the most concrete, the most clear-sighted of women". However, she never tried to outshine her famous husband. The Carlyles lived first years of their marriage on a remote farm in Dumfriesshire - the place was a shock for Jane who was used to cultured life. Oppressed by financial difficulties the Carlyles returned to Jane's farm at Craigenputtock and concentrated on writing. While staying in London in 1831, Carlyle became acquainted with J.S. Mill, who later introduced him to Emerson, the American philosopher and essayist. "The visit of an angel," called Jane their meeting with Emerson. Carlyle started with Emerson a correspondence which lasted decades despite their different characters. "He talks like a very unhappy man, profoundly solitary, displeased & hindered by all men and things about him," Emerson said about his friend.
In 1834 Carlyle moved with his wife to London. His breakthrough work, SARTOR RESARTUS, was published in 1833-34. Part autobiography, part philosophy, it was written using an energetic, complex language that came to be called 'Carlylese'. Another major work, a three volume history of the French Revolution, appeared in 1837, and a biography of Fredrick the Great in 1858-65. From 1837 to 1840 Carlyle undertook several series of lectures, of which the most significant was On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Although Carlyle recognized the achievements of Cromwell and Napoleon, he saw that in his own time the the hero needed was a thinker and writer.
After his wife's death in 1866, from which he never completely recovered, Carlyle retired from public life, and wrote little. Jane had recorded her bitter thoughts in a secret journal, which Carlyle found, but in a letter to Emerson he stated: "Bright, heroic, tender, true and noble was that lost treasure of my heart, who faithfully accompanied me in all the rocky ways and climbings; and I am forever poor without her." He gave her papers and letters in 1871 to his friend J.A. Froude, who published them after Carlyle's death. Froude also published Carlyle's REMINISCENCES (1881) and a four-volume biography (1882-84). Carlyle was appointed Rector of the University of Edinburgh in 1866, and in 1874 he received Prussian Order of Merit. However, Carlyle declined baronecy from Disraeli. Carlyle died on February 5, 1881 in London. His grave is in Ecclefechan.
History was Carlyle the storehouse of 'heroes', and in this intuitive spirit he wrote such works as THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1837), On Heroes and Hero Worship, OLIVER CROMWELL'S LETTERS AND SPEECHES (1845), FREDERICK II OF PRUSSIA (1858-65). He had to rewrite The French Revolution after he had sent the manuscript to John Stuart Mill, whose maid burned it - the only copy - for waste paper. Mill offered the author £200 compensation, he eventually accepted £100.
Carlyle opposed analytic reasoning and quasi-scientific treatment of social questions by the rationalist political economists, and advocated the more emotional and intuitive approach of the 18th and 19th century German thinkers like Richter and Goethe. Carlyle's Sartor Resartus was a disguised spiritual autobiography, in which he faces the tendencies to intellectual skepticism and dedicates himself to a life of spiritual affirmation. The first half of the book is about the ideas of a self-made philosopher who believes everything can be explained in terms of clothes. The French Revolution was written in dramatic language bringing the history of the revolution alive in a way that few historians have ever done. However, the manuscript was first accidentally burned by a domestic servant and Carlyle rewrote the book, which was published when he was 42.
"One age, he is hag-ridden, bewitched; the next, priestridden, befooled; in all ages, bedevilled. And now the Genius of Mechanism smothers him worse than any Nightmare did. In Earth and in Heaven he can see nothing but Mechanism; he has fear for nothing else, hope in nothing else." (Sartor Resartus, 1831)
As an essayist Carlyle's career began with two pieces in the Edinburgh Review in 1827. He expressed sympathy for the condition of the working class in the long essay Chartism (1839). In 'The Negro Question' (1850) he addressed the subject of West Indian slavery in intemperate and for the modern day reader repugnant terms. Carlyle's cynicism with English society was evident in the Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850). As in his historical studies, Carlyle insisted the importance of the individual, and raised serious questions about democracy, mass persuasion, and politics. This also isolated him from the liberal and democratic tendencies of his age. Henry James saw him as "the same old sausage, fizzing and sputtering in its own grease." In the 20th-century his reputation waned, partly because his trust in authority and admiration of strong leaders, which were interpreted as foreshadowing of Fascism. According to a story, Gobbels read to Hitler in 1945, as the war was nearing its end, Carlyle's work on Frederick the Great.
For further reading: Carlyle and German Thought, 1819-34 by C.F. Harold (1934); Carlyle and the Idea of the Modernism by Albert J. LaValley (1968); Guide to Carlyle by Augustus Ralli (1970); Carlyle and Goethe by W. Witte (1972); Carlyle and his Contemporaries, ed. by J. Clubbe (1976); Thomas Carlyle as a Critic of Literature by F.W. Roe (1976); Carlyle and the Burden of History by John D. Rosenberg (1986); Carlyle and Tennyson by Michael Timko (1988); Thomas Carlyle: A Biography by Fred Kaplan (1993); Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle by Simon Heffer (1995); Carlyle and Scottish Though by Ralph Jessop (1997);Thomas & Jane Carlyle: Portrait of a Marriage by Rosemary Ashton (2002) - "Much twaddling criticism has been spent on Carlyle's style. Unquestionably there are some genuine minds, not at all given to twaddle, to whom his style in antipathetic, who find it as unendurable as an English lady finds peppermint. Against antipathies there is no arguing; they are misfortunes. But instinctive repulsion apart, surely there is no one who can read and relish Carlyle feeling that they could no more wish him to have written in another style than they could wish Gothic architecture not to be Gothic, or Raffaelle not to be Raffaellesque... No novelist has made his creations live for us more thoroughly than Carlyle has made Mirabeau and the men of the French Revolution, Cromwell and the Puritans. What humour in his pictures! Yet what depth of appreciation, what reverence for the great and godlike under every sort of earthy mummery!" (George Eliot in Thomas Carlyle, 1855) - See also: Ralph Waldo Emerson
translation: Goethe's WILHEM MEISTER'S APPRENTICESHIP, 1824
THE LIFE OF SCHILLER, 1825
translation: GERMAN ROMANCE: SPECIMENS OF ITS CHIEF AUTHORS, WITH BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL NOTES, 1827 - authors represented, often with their best work, include E.T.A. Hoffmann, J.K. Musäeus, and J.L. Tieck
ESSAY ON BURNS, 1828
SIGNS OF THE TIMES, 1829
ON HISTORY, 1830
ON HISTORY AGAIN, 1833
SARTOR RESARTUS, 1833-34
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, 1837
LECTURES ON GERMAN LITERATURE, 1837
LECTURES ON THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE, 1838
ESSAY ON SCOTT, 1838
LECTURES ON EUROPEAN REVOLUTIONS, 1839
COLLECTED ESSAYS, 1839
ON HEROES, HEROWORSHIP, AND THE HEROIC IN HISTORY, 1841
PAST AND PRESENT, 1843
OLIVER CROMWELL'S LETTERS AND SPEECHES, 1845
LATTER-DAY PAMPHLETS, 1850
THE HISTORY OF FRIEDRICH II OF PRUSSIA, 1858-65
ON THE CHOICE OF BOOKS, 1866
SHOOTING NIAGARA - AND AFTER?, 1867
EARLY KINGS OF NORWAY, 1875
LAST WORDS, 1882
CORRESPONDENCE WITH EMERSON, 1883
CORRESPONDENCE WITH GOETHE, 1887
EARLY LETTERS, 1889
RESCUED ESSAYS, 1892
MONTAIGNE AND OTHER ESSAYS, CHIEFLY BIOGRAPHICAL, 1897
LETTERS TO HIS WIFE, 1953
A CARLYLE READER, 1969
THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF T.C. AND JANE WELSH, 1970
Courtesy of: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/carlyle.htm