I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.
This article was written by Leslie Stephen; it was published in 1886
Thomas Carlyle, essayist and historian, was born on 4 December 1795 at Ecclefechan in Annandale. He was grandson of a Thomas Carlyle, first a carpenter and afterwards a small farmer at Brownknowe, near Burnswark Hill. Francis, a brother of the elder Thomas, was a rough sailor of the Trunnion type. The brothers had been separated by a long quarrel, and among the earliest recollections of the younger Thomas was a sight of the granduncle, who was being carried upstairs to be reconciled with the dying grandfather. Both brothers were tough, irascible men, as much given to fighting as to working. Thomas married Anne Gillespie, by whom he had four sons and two daughters. The second son, James, born in 1757, inherited the paternal temper, and was roughly brought up, and allowed to ramble over the country shooting hares. He received early religious impressions from John Orr, schoolmaster and shoemaker, who was pious when sober, but often spent weeks at the pothouse. In 1773 James became apprenticed to a mason, William Brown, married to his eldest sister Fanny. He afterwards set up in business with a brother, built a house for himself in Ecclefechan, and there made a home for his father and brothers. In 1791 he married a cousin, Janet Carlyle, who died after giving birth to one son, John. Two years after her death (1794) James Carlyle married Janet Aitken. Their first child, Thomas, was followed by three sons and five daughters. The sons were John Aitken; Alexander (b. 1797), who emigrated to Canada, and died 1876; and James (b. 1805), who took the farm at Scotsbrig and survived his brothers. The daughters were Janet, who died in infancy; Margaret (b. 1803), died unmarried in 1830; Mary (b. 1808), who became Mrs. Austin; Jane, or ‘craw Jean’ (b. 1810), who married her cousin, James Aitken, in 1833; and Janet (b. 1813), who became Mrs. Hanning, and settled in Canada. James Carlyle was from the first steady, abstemious, and a thorough workman. His business prospered, and he joined the ‘burghers,’ a sect of rigorous seceders from the kirk, who had a ‘heath-thatched’ meeting-house in Ecclefechan. He was a man of remarkable force of mind and character, strong affections masked by habitual reserve, and the religious temperament characteristic of the stern Scotch Calvinist.
Thomas Carlyle learnt reading from his mother, and arithmetic (at five) from his father. He was then sent to the village school. His English was reported to be ‘complete’ in his seventh year, and he was set to Latin. As the schoolmaster was incompetent he was taught by Johnstone, the burgher minister, and his son, an Edinburgh student. At Whitsuntide 1805 he was sent to Annan grammar school. He had already shown a violent temper, and his mother now made him promise not to return a blow. He had, consequently, to put up with much cruelty, until he turned against a tormentor, and, though beaten, proved himself to be a dangerous subject for bullying. The two first years, he says, were miserable. His school experience is reflected in Sartor Resartus. He learnt to read French and Latin and the Greek alphabet; he learnt a little geometry and algebra; and devoured all the books he could get. His father perceived the son's ability, and decided to send him to the university with a view to the ministry. Carlyle accordingly walked to Edinburgh — a hundred miles distant — in the November term 1809, and went through the usual course. He acquired some Greek and Latin; was disgusted with the uncongenial rhetoric of Thomas Brown upon the association philosophy; but made some real progress in mathematics under John Leslie, who earned his lasting gratitude by zealous help. He became a leading spirit among a small circle of friends of his own class. Their letters show remarkable interest in literary matters. One of them addresses him as ‘Dean’ and ‘Jonathan,’ implying that he is to be a second Swift. Another speaks of his ‘Shandean turn of expression.’ Tristram Shandy was one of his favourite books. Carlyle contemplated an epic poem. He still studied mathematics. He advised his friends sensibly, and was ready to help them from his little savings.
To fill up the interval which must elapse before his intended ordination, Carlyle obtained in 1814 the mathematical tutorship at Annan. He thus became independent, and was able to put by something from his salary of £60 or £70 a year. He was near his father, who had now settled in a farm at Mainhill, two miles from Ecclefechan. Here he passed his holidays; but his life at Annan was solitary, and chiefly spent among his books. His divinity course involved an annual address at Edinburgh. He delivered in 1814 ‘a weak, flowery, sentimental’ sermon in English, and a Latin discourse (Christmas 1815), also ‘weak enough,’ on the question, ‘Num detur religio naturalis?’ On the last occasion he had a little passage of arms with Edward Irving, to whom he now spoke for the first time at a friend's rooms. Irving was an old pupil of the Annan school, where Carlyle had once seen him on a visit. He had become a schoolmaster at Kirkcaldy. Some of the parents were discontented with his teaching, and resolved to import a second schoolmaster. Christieson (professor of Latin at Edinburgh) and Leslie recommended Carlyle, who thus in the summer of 1816 became a rival of Irving. Irving, however, welcomed him with a generosity which he warmly acknowledged, and they at once formed a close intimacy. Carlyle made use of Irving's library, where he read Gibbon and much French literature, and they made little expeditions together, vividly described in the Reminiscences. To Irving's literary example Carlyle thinks that he owed ‘something of his own poor affectations’ in style.
Carlyle's school duties were thoroughly distasteful. His reserve, irritability, and power of sarcasm were bad equipments for a schoolmaster's work. He kept his pupils in awe without physical force, but his success was chiefly negative. He saw little society, but was attracted by a Miss Margaret Gordon, an ex-pupil of Irving's, probably the original of ‘Blumine’ in Sartor Resartus. An aunt with whom Miss Gordon lived put a stop to some talk of an engagement. Miss Gordon took leave of him in a remarkable letter, in which, after a serious warning against the dangers of pride and excessive severity, she begs him to think of her as a sister, though she will not see him again. She soon married a member of parliament who became ‘governor of Nova Scotia (or so)’ and was living about 1840.
‘Schoolmastering’ had become intolerable. The ministry had also become out of the question, as Carlyle's wider reading had led to his abandonment of the orthodox views. In September 1818 he told his father that he had saved about £90, and with his and a few mathematical pupils could support himself in Edinburgh till he could qualify himself for the bar. He accordingly went to Edinburgh in December 1819 with Irving, who had given up his own school with a view to entering upon his ministerial functions. Carlyle had now begun to suffer from the dyspepsia which tormented him through life: ‘A rat was gnawing at the pit of his stomach.’ The consequent irritability already found vent in language of grotesque exaggeration where it is often difficult to distinguish between the serious and the intentionally humorous. The little annoyances incidental to life in mean lodgings are transfigured into a haunting of the furies. The ‘three most miserable years’ of his life followed. He obtained a pupil or two and was employed by Brewster on the Encyclopædias. He managed just to pay his way; but he soon gave up his law studies — always uncongenial — and found no other opening. The misery of the lower classes at this time of universal depression made a profound impression, and he sympathised with the general discontent. He was also going through a religious crisis. The collapse of his old beliefs seemed to leave him no escape from gloomy and degrading materialism. After much mental agony, he one day in June 1821, after ‘three weeks of total sleeplessness,’ went through the crisis described ‘quite literally’ in Sartor Resartus. From this hour he dated his ‘spiritual new birth,’ though for four years more he had many mental struggles. Carlyle had now taken to German study, and his great helper in this crisis appears to have been Goethe. The serenity of Goethe probably attracted him by the contrast to his own vehemence. Goethe, as he thought, showed that the highest culture and most unreserved acceptance of the results of modern inquiry might be combined with a reverent and truly religious conception of the universe. Carlyle continued to revere Goethe, though the religious sentiments which he preserved, Scotch Calvinism minus the dogma, were very unlike those of his spiritual guide.
During this period of struggle Carlyle was supported by the steady confidence of his father, the anxious affection of his mother, and the cordial sympathy of his brothers and sisters. He was eagerly welcomed on occasional visits to Mainhill, and, though sometimes alarming his family by his complaints, always returned their affection and generally made the best of his prospects. To them he seldom said a harsh word. Another consolation was the friendship of Irving, now (October 1819) under Chalmers at Glasgow. He visited Irving in 1820, and at Drumclog Moor, whither Irving had walked with him on the way to Ecclefechan, explained to his friend the difference of faith which now divided them. The scene is vividly described in the Reminiscences. Carlyle walked fifty-four miles the next day, the longest walk he ever took. Irving did his utmost both to comfort Carlyle and to find him employment. Carlyle had applied in vain to London booksellers, proposing, for one thing, a complete translation of Schiller. Captain Basil Hall had offered to take Carlyle as a kind of scientific secretary, an offer which Carlyle declined. Meanwhile Irving, on preaching experimentally in Hatton Garden, had made acquaintance with two sisters, Mrs. Strachey and Mrs. Charles Buller. Mrs. Buller consulted Irving upon the education of her two eldest sons, Charles and Arthur, afterwards Sir Arthur. Irving recommended Edinburgh University with Carlyle for a tutor, and in January 1822 Carlyle accepted the proposal. The two lads joined him in the following spring. His salary was £200 a year. The parents of his pupils came to Edinburgh in the autumn of 1822. Carlyle lodged at 3 Moray Place, Pilrig Street, spending the day with his pupils. In the spring of 1823 the Bullers took Kinnaird House, near Dunkeld. Carlyle spent the rest of the year there with them, and on the whole happily, though occasionally grumbling at dyspepsia and the ways of fine ladies and gentlemen. At the end of January 1824 the Bullers finally returned to London, Carlyle staying at Mainhill to finish a translation of Wilhelm Meister. At the beginning of June he followed the Bullers to London in a sailing ship, and found them hesitating between various schemes. After a week at Kew with Charles Buller, who was now intended for Cambridge, he resolved to give up his place. He had been much attracted by his pupil Charles, but to his proud spirit a life of dependence upon grand people, with constantly unsettled plans and with no definite outlook for himself, had naturally become intolerable.
His improved income had enabled him to help his family. Out of his £200 a year he supported his brother John as a medical student in Edinburgh, and stocked a farm for his brother Alexander, besides sending many presents to his parents. He had been actively writing. He had translated Legendre's Geometry, for which he received £50 and wrote in one morning an introduction on the doctrine of Proportion, of which he speaks with complacency. Irving, who had finally settled in London, in the summer of 1822 had mentioned Carlyle to Taylor, proprietor of the London Magazine. Taylor offered him sixteen guineas a sheet for a series of Portraits of Men of Genius and Character. The first was to be a life of Schiller, which appeared in the London Magazine in 1823-4. An Edinburgh publisher, Boyd, accepted the translation of Wilhelm Meister. Carlyle was to receive £180 for the first edition, £250 for a thousand copies of a second, and afterwards to have the copyright. Carlyle, therefore, accustomed to the severe economy of his father's house, was sufficiently prosperous. On leaving the Bullers he was thrown on his own resources.
He stayed on in London trying to find some occupation. In the summer of 1824 he spent two months at Birmingham with Mr. Badams, a manufacturer, of some literary knowledge and scientific culture. Badams hoped to cure Carlyle's dyspepsia by a judicious regimen, and though he failed to do much, Carlyle was touched by his kindness. From Birmingham Carlyle went to Dover, where the Irvings were staying, and made a brief visit to Paris, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Strachey and Mrs. Strachey's cousin, Miss ‘Kitty’ Kirkpatrick. He remembered every detail with singular fidelity, and his impressions were of service in the history of the French revolution. On returning, he took lodgings in Islington, near Irving, and stayed there, occupied in publishing negotiations, till his return to Scotland in March 1825. His Schiller, reprinted from the London Magazine, was issued before his departure, bringing him about £100.
Carlyle received strong impressions from his first view of London society. He judged it much as Knox judged the court of Mary, or St. John the Baptist the court of Herod. He is typified by Teufelsdröckh, ‘a wild seer, shaggy, unkempt, like a baptist living on locusts and wild honey.’ The rugged independence of the Scotch peasant, resenting even well-meant patronage, colours his judgments of the fashionable world, while an additional severity is due to his habitual dyspepsia. The circle to whom Irving had introduced him are described in the Reminiscences with a graphic power in which a desire to acknowledge real kindness and merit struggles against a generally unfavourable opinion. Of Mrs. Strachey, indeed, he speaks with real warmth, and he admired for the present ‘the noble lady,’ Mrs. Basil Montagu, of whom there is a striking and generally favourable portrait. But the social atmosphere was evidently uncongenial. He still admired Irving, whom he always loved; but felt keenly that his friend was surrounded by a circle whose flattery was dangerous to his simplicity, and which mistook a flush of excitement for deep religious feeling. Yet Carlyle still believes that he will escape from the ‘gross incense of preaching popularity’. Carlyle formed a still more disparaging estimate of the men of letters. Upon these ‘things for writing articles’ he lavished his most exaggerated expressions of scorn. Coleridge was dawdling upon Highgate Hill, wasting his genius upon aimless talk; Hazlitt a mere Bohemian; Campbell's powers had left him; Charles Lamb (of whose pathetic story he was ignorant, ‘something of real insanity I have understood,’) had degenerated into a mere cockney idol, ruined by flattery. Southey and Wordsworth had ‘retired far from the din of this monstrous city,’ and Carlyle thought best to follow their example. If his judgment was harsh, it put new force into his resolution to deliver his own message to a backsliding generation, and to refuse at whatever cost to prostitute his talents for gain or flattery.
The most gratifying incident of this period was a letter from Goethe acknowledging the translation of Meister, and introducing ‘the Lords Bentinck’ (one of them Lord George), whom Carlyle did not see. The translation had been successful. Carlyle had arranged to translate other selections from German writers, which ultimately appeared in 1827. He proceeded to carry out his scheme of retirement. His father took a farm called Hoddam Hill, about two miles from Mainhill, at a rent of £100 a year. His brother Alexander managed the farm; and Carlyle settled down with his books, and after some idleness took up his translating. The quiet, the country air, and long rides on his ‘wild Irish horse “Larry,”’ improved his health and spirits, and justified his choice; but his life was now to be seriously changed.
Jane Baillie Welsh was descended from two unrelated families, both named Welsh. They had long been settled at the manor-house of Craigenputtock. Her father, John Welsh, descended through a long line of John Welshes from John Welsh, a famous minister of Ayr, whose wife was daughter of John Knox. The last John Welsh (b. 4 April 1776) was a pupil of one of the Bells, and afterwards became a country doctor at Haddington. His father, John Welsh of Penfillan (so called after his farm), survived him, dying in 1823. Dr. Welsh, in 1801, married Grace, or Grizzie, Welsh, daughter of Walter Welsh, a stock-farmer, who upon his daughter's marriage settled at Templand, near Penfillan. Walter's wife, a Miss Baillie, claimed descent from William Wallace. A John Welsh, often mentioned in the books upon Carlyle, was son of Walter, and therefore maternal uncle of Jane Baillie Welsh. He settled at Liverpool, became bankrupt through the dishonesty of a partner, and afterwards retrieved his fortune and paid his creditors in full. Jane Baillie Welsh (b. 14 July 1801) was the only child of her parents. From her infancy she was remarkably bright and self-willed. She insisted on learning Latin, and was sent to Haddington school. Irving came there as a master, lived in her father's house, and introduced her to Virgil. On her tenth birthday she burnt her doll on a funeral pyre, after the model of Dido; at fourteen she wrote a tragedy, and continued for many years to write poetry. Her father, the only person who had real influence with her, died of typhus fever caught from a patient in September 1819, and her health suffered from the blow for years. She continued to live with her mother, to whom her father had left a sufficient income, and became known from her wit and beauty as ‘the flower of Haddington.’ She was sought by many lovers, and encouraged more than one, but cherished a childish passion for her tutor Irving. He had removed to Kirkcaldy, and there, while Miss Welsh was still a child, became engaged to Miss Martin. He continued to visit Haddington, and came to a mutual understanding with Miss Welsh. They hoped, it seems, that the Martins would consent to release him; but when this hope was disappointed, both agreed that he must keep to his engagement. Irving married in the autumn of 1823. Meanwhile, in June 1821, Irving had brought Carlyle from Edinburgh to Haddington, and there introduced him to Miss Welsh. Carlyle obtained permission to send her books, opened a correspondence, and saw her on her occasional visits to Edinburgh. Irving wrote some final letters of farewell to Miss Welsh in the autumn of 1822.
Carlyle, who was quite ignorant of this affair, was meanwhile becoming more intimate with Miss Welsh, who was beginning to recognise his remarkable qualities, and to regard him with a much deeper feeling than that which she had formerly entertained for Irving. In the summer of 1823, while he was at Kinnaird, she had told him emphatically that he had misunderstood a previous letter, and that she would never be his wife. Soon afterwards she executed a deed transferring the whole of her father's property, some £200 or £300 a year which had been left to her, to her mother, in order that her husband, if she ever married, might not be able to diminish her mother's income. She also left the whole to Carlyle in case of her own and her mother's death.
For the next two years the intimacy gradually increased, with various occasional difficulties. In the spring of 1824 she had promised, apparently in a fit of repentance for a quarrel, that she would become his wife if he could achieve independence. Some remarkable letters passed during his stay in England. Carlyle proposed his favourite scheme for settling with her as his wife upon a farm — her farm of Craigenputtock, for example, then about to become vacant — and devoting himself to his lofty aspirations. Miss Welsh answered by pointing out the sacrifice of comfort and social position to herself, and said frankly that she did not love him well enough for a husband. Yet she showed some relenting, and was unwilling to break entirely. The solution came by the strange interference of Mrs. Montagu, who, though a friend to Irving and Carlyle, was unknown to Miss Welsh. Mrs. Montagu warned Miss Welsh against the dangers of still cherishing her passion for Irving. In answer Miss Welsh stated her intention of marrying Carlyle. The lady protested, and exhorted Miss Welsh not to conceal the story from her new lover. Hereupon Miss Welsh sent the letter to Carlyle, who now for the first time became aware of her former feeling for Irving. Hitherto she had spoken of Irving so bitterly that Carlyle had remonstrated. He was startled into unwonted humility, and begged her to consider the risk of sacrificing herself to one of his ‘strange dark humours.’ For answer she came to see him in person (September 1825), and was introduced as his promised bride to his family, who received her with simple courtesy, and always remained on affectionate terms.
Carlyle now fell to work on his translations. Many difficulties remained. A dispute with the landlord led to the abandonment of Hoddam Hill by his father. The Mainhill lease also expired in 1826, and the Carlyles moved to Scotsbrig, a neighbouring farm. Carlyle was anxious to begin his married life, and had saved £200 to start housekeeping. Some small schemes for regular literary employment fell through, but Carlyle thought that he might find some quiet cottage near Edinburgh where work would be possible. Various plans were discussed. Mrs. Welsh heartily disapproved of her daughter's match, thinking Carlyle irreligious, ill-tempered, and socially inferior. Miss Welsh, as the beauty of a small country town, was in a class superior to that of the Carlyles, though superior neither in income nor position to the society to which Carlyle had been admitted while her first love, Irving, was his most intimate friend. Mrs. Welsh consented at last to allow the pair to take up their abode with her. Carlyle declined on the ground that he must be master in his own house, and that the proposed arrangement would inevitably lead, as was only too probable, to disagreements. The mother and daughter had frequent disputes, not likely to be the milder for Carlyle's presence. The Carlyle family themselves declared that it would be impossible for Miss Welsh to submit to the rough conditions of life at Scotsbrig. At last Carlyle's original plan, which seems to have been the most reasonable, was adopted, and a house was taken at Comley Bank, Edinburgh. Mrs. Welsh was to settle with her father at Templand. The marriage expenses were paid for by the proceeds of the ‘German Romances,’ and the wedding took place at Templand, 17 October 1826.
The marriage of two of the most remarkable people of their time had been preceded by some ominous symptoms. Carlyle's intense and enduring affection for his wife is shown in letters of extreme tenderness and by many unequivocal symptoms. It was unfortunately too often masked by explosions of excessive irritability, and by the constant gloom increased by his complete absorption in his work. From the first, too, it seems to have been less the passion of a lover than admiration of an intellectual companion. Mrs. Carlyle's brilliancy was associated with a scorn for all illusions and a marked power of uttering unpleasant truths. There can be no doubt that she sincerely loved Carlyle, though she is reported to have said that she had married ‘for ambition’ and was miserable. Her childlessness left her to constant solitude, and her mind preyed upon itself. The result was that a union, externally irreproachable, and founded upon genuine affection, was marred by painful discords which have been laid bare with unsparing frankness. Carlyle's habit of excessive emphasis and exaggeration of speech has deepened the impression.
The marriage started happily. The Carlyles lived in the simplest style, with one servant. Mrs. Carlyle was a charming hostess, and the literary people of Edinburgh came to see her and listen to her husband's astonishing monologues. The money difficulty soon became pressing. Carlyle tried a novel, which had to be burnt. He suggested a scheme for a literary Annual Register; but the publishers, disappointed in the sale of Meister and Schiller, turned a deaf ear. In spite of their difficulties the Carlyles refused a present of £60 from Mrs. Welsh. Carlyle, however, began to think again of Craigenputtock, with fresh country air and exercise. His brother Alexander was willing to take the farm, where the tenant was in arrears, and Mrs. Welsh, now at Templand, approved the change, which would bring her daughter within fifteen miles of her. It was agreed that Alexander Carlyle should take the farm at Whitsuntide 1827, and that the Thomas Carlyles should occupy the house, which was separate from the farmhouse, as soon as it could be prepared. Meanwhile some gleams of prosperity helped to detain Carlyle at Edinburgh. His reputation was rising. In August 1827 he received a warm acknowledgment from Goethe of his Life of Schiller, with a present of books, medals, a necklace for Mrs. Carlyle, and a pocket-book for himself.
Carlyle had formed a more directly useful acquaintance with Jeffrey. An article sent by Irving's advice to the Edinburgh Review had received no notice; but Carlyle, supplied with a letter of introduction from Procter, resolved at last to call upon Jeffrey. Jeffrey was friendly, discovered a relationship to Mrs. Carlyle, to whom he became specially attached, and accepted articles for the Edinburgh. Two, upon Jean Paul and on German Literature, appeared in June and October 1827, and the latter brought a flattering inquiry from Goethe as to the authorship. The slight improvement in his finances immediately encouraged Carlyle to send his brother John to study medicine in Germany. Jeffrey further tried by his interest with Brougham to obtain Carlyle's appointment to a professorship in the newly founded London University. He supported Carlyle in a candidature for the professorship of moral philosophy at St. Andrews, vacated by Dr. Chalmers. Testimonials were given not only by Irving, Buller, Brewster, Wilson, Leslie, and Jeffrey, but by Goethe. They failed, however, in consequence of the opposition of the principal, Dr. Nicol. Craigenputtock thus became almost a necessity; and the discovery that their landlord at Comley Bank had accepted another tenant decided them to move at the end of May 1828.
Carlyle hoped that in the seclusion of Craigenputtock he would be able to support himself by writings worthy of himself. He would not turn out a page of inferior workmanship or condescend to the slightest compromise with his principles. He struggled on for six years with varying success. He wrote the articles which form the first three volumes of the Miscellanies. They appeared chiefly in the Edinburgh Review and in the Foreign Review and Fraser's Magazine, both new ventures. He wrote nothing which was not worth subsequent collection, and some of these writings are among his most finished performances. Down to the end of 1830 his work (except the article on Burns) was chiefly upon German literature, especially upon Goethe, with whom he continued to have a pleasant correspondence. His health was better than usual, the complaints of dyspepsia disappear from his letters; but the money question became urgent. His articles, always the slow product of a kind of mental agony, were his only resource. He was still supporting his brother John, who returned to London about 1830, and could get no patients. In February 1831 Carlyle had only £5, and expected no more for months. He concealed his poverty from his brother, and did his best to encourage him. The demand for his articles had declined. German literature, of which he had begun a history, was not a marketable topic. His brother Alexander, to whom he had advanced £240, had failed at Craigenputtock; and after leaving it at Whitsuntide 1831 was for a time without employment. Jeffrey's transference of the editorship of the Edinburgh Review to Macvey Napier in the middle of 1829 stopped one source of income. In the beginning of 1831 Carlyle cut up his history of German literature into articles, and worked desperately at Sartor Resartus. John had been forced to borrow from Jeffrey; and Carlyle resolved at last to go to London and try the publishers. He hoped to find encouragement for settling there permanently. He was forced to borrow £50 from Jeffrey, and reached London 9 August 1831. Neither Murray, nor the Longmans, nor Fraser would buy Sartor Resartus. Carlyle found Irving plunged into dangerous illusions; Badams falling into difficulties and drink; and his old friends, as he thought, cold or faithless. A great relief, however, came through Jeffrey, who obtained an appointment for John as travelling physician to the Countess of Clare, with a salary of 300 guineas a year. Freed from this strain, Carlyle's income might suffice. Mrs. Carlyle was now able to join him in London (1 October 1831), where they took lodgings at 4 Ampton Street, Gray's Inn Road, with a family named Miles, belonging to Irving's congregation. They saw Charles Buller, and now made acquaintance with J. S. Mill. Carlyle wrote his Characteristics, which was accepted by Napier for the Edinburgh, and his article upon Boswell's Johnson for Fraser. Bulwer, now editing the New Monthly, asked for articles, and Hayward got Lardner, as editor of the Cabinet Encyclopædia, to offer £300 for the History of German Literature. The death of his father on22 January 1832, came upon Carlyle as a heavy blow. Though he had not obtained a publisher for Sartor Resartus, he had established relations with some editors for future work; and he retired again for a time to the now vacant Craigenputtock, reaching it about the middle of April 1832. He set to work upon Diderot, which he finished in October, and then made an excursion in Annandale. In November Mrs. Carlyle was called to the deathbed of her grandfather, Walter Welsh, at Templand. The solitude, the absence of books, and the weakness of Mrs. Carlyle's health were making Craigenputtock unbearable; and in the winter they resolved to make a trial of Edinburgh. They settled there in January 1833; and Carlyle found books in the Advocates' Library which had a great effect upon his line of study. He collected the materials for his articles upon Cagliostro and the Diamond Necklace. Edinburgh society, however, proved uncongenial, and after four months he again went back to his ‘Whinstane Castle’ at Craigenputtock. Editors were once more becoming cold. Sartor Resartus was appearing at last in Fraser's Magazine (November 1833 to August 1834), Fraser having stipulated to pay only twelve guineas a sheet instead of twenty as before (the usual rate being fifteen). Fraser now reported that it ‘excited the most unqualified disapprobation’. The dealers in literature were turning their backs upon him; though his fame increased in some directions. In August 1833 Emerson came to him with a letter from Mill. The Carlyles thought him ‘one of the most loveable creatures’ they had ever seen; and an unbroken friendship of nearly fifty years was begun. Carlyle corresponded with Mill, who approached him as a philosophical teacher; and their correspondence turned Carlyle's thoughts towards the French Revolution. A visit from his brother John, the marriages of his sister Jean to James Aitken, a house-painter of superior abilities, and of his youngest brother James, now farming Scotsbrig, to whom Carlyle made over the debt of £200 from Alexander, varied the monotony of Craigenputtock. In the winter of 1833-4 Carlyle took charge of a promising young William Glen, who gave him Greek lessons in return for lessons in mathematics. Carlyle, however, now at the lowest pecuniary ebb, became more and more discontented, and at last resolved to ‘burn his ships’ and settle in London.
Other proposals had failed. Jeffrey had tried to be helpful. He had proposed Carlyle as his successor in the editorship of the Edinburgh. When this failed, he had offered to Carlyle an annuity of £100. The offer was honourably declined, with Carlyle's usual independence, though his gratitude is weakened by his resentment for any kind of obligation. Jeffrey, when lord advocate, had thought of obtaining for him some appointment in London. He had also lent money both to John and Thomas, which was repaid at the earliest opportunity. Jeffrey, however, though admiring Carlyle's genius, had spoken contemptuously of his literary eccentricities. He was entirely out of sympathy with Carlyle's opinions, condemned his defiance of all conventions, and complained of him for being so ‘desperately in earnest.’ A growing coolness ensued, which came to a head when, in January 1834, Carlyle proposed to apply for the post of astronomical professor and observer at Edinburgh. Carlyle had shown mathematical ability, and was confident of his own powers. Jeffrey naturally replied that the place would have to be given to some one of proved ability. He added that a secretary of his own was qualified, and would probably get it on his merits, and proceeded to administer a very sharp lecture to Carlyle. He said that if he had had the power he would have appointed Carlyle to a rhetoric chair then vacant in some university. But the authorities had decided that the chair ought to be given to some man of great and established reputation, like Macaulay, for example. Carlyle's eccentricities would prevent him from ever obtaining any such position.
The lecture stung Carlyle beyond bearing. It left a resentment which he could not conceal, even when trying, long afterwards, to do justice to the memory of a friend and benefactor. A coolness due to another cause had probably made itself felt, though not openly expressed by Jeffrey. He had condemned Carlyle's eccentricity not only as a wilful throwing away of opportunities, but as involving cruelty to Mrs. Carlyle. Her life during the Craigenputtock years had been hard and injurious to her health. Carlyle speaks frequently in his letters of her delicacy. She seems to have suffered even more at London and Edinburgh than at Craigenputtock. But the life in a bleak situation, with one servant and an occasional boy, with the necessity of minute attention to every housekeeping detail, was excessively trying. Carlyle, accustomed to the rigid economy of his father's household, thought comparatively little of these trials, or rather thought that the occupation was ‘the saving charm of her life.’ Mrs. Carlyle had undertaken the duty of keeping a poor man's household with her eyes open; and severe economy was essential to his power of discharging his self-imposed task. Unluckily, though a stoical sense of duty made her conceal her sufferings from her husband, her love for him was not of the kind which could either make them a pleasure or prevent her from complaining at others. Jeffrey, who visited the Carlyles to Craigenputtock, saw what was hidden from Carlyle. The extreme solitude was unbearable to her wearied spirits. They were for months alone, without interruption from an outsider. Carlyle frequently mentions long rides and drives with his wife; he consulted her upon all his books; and he remembered Craigenputtock as the scene of perhaps ‘their happiest days.’ But composition meant for him a solitary agony. His devotion to his labours left her to complete solitude for many hours and days; and she retained a most painful impression, possibly even exaggerated in her later confessions, of her trial during the six years (less two winters at Edinburgh and London). It is not easy, however, to see how, under the conditions, a better scheme could have been devised. It enabled Carlyle, at least, to go through his apprenticeship, and he was now to emerge as a master of his craft.
Carlyle reached London on 19 May 1834, settled in his old lodgings, and began house-hunting. He found a small old-fashioned house at 5 (now numbered 24) Cheyne Row, Chelsea, at a rent of £35 a year. Mrs. Carlyle followed and confirmed his choice. They settled in the house (which he occupied till his death) on 10 June 1834, and he began work in tolerable spirits upon the French Revolution. Leigh Hunt was his neighbour, and Carlyle forgave his cockneyism and queer Bohemian mode of life for his vivacity and kindliness. Irving paid his last visit to them about a month before his death (6 December 1834). A final explanation had taken place between him and the Carlyles on their previous visit to London, revealing hopeless alienation upon religious questions. The old personal attachment survived, and in a touching article in Fraser's Magazine (January 1835) Carlyle says that but for Irving he would never have known ‘what the communion of man with man meant,’ and thought him on the whole the best man he had ever found or hoped to find. Both Carlyles were now almost completely separated from Mrs. Montagu, and rather resented a letter written by her to Mrs. Carlyle upon Irving's death. Younger friends, however, were beginning to gather round Carlyle. Mrs. Carlyle reports that he is becoming a ‘tolerably social character,’ and losing the Craigenputtock gloom. Charles Buller visited him and took him to radical meetings, where the popular wrath gave him a grim satisfaction. Carlyle was a thorough radical in so far as the word implies a profound dissatisfaction with the existing order. He shared, or represented, an extreme form of the discontent which accumulated during the first quarter of the century against the existing institutions. He welcomed the Reform Bill agitation as the first movement towards the destruction of the old order. He looked forward, indeed, to a reconstruction of principles and institutions which was entirely opposed to the views of the Mills and their associates. Yet he held that the ‘whigs were amateurs, the radicals guild brethren’. Though limited in their philosophy, they were genuine as far as they went. Mill's respect and sympathy had touched him, and he was prepared to form some temporary alliance with the set of ‘philosophical radicals.’ He saw something of them, and calls Mill and one or two of his set the ‘reasonablest people we have;’ though disgusted by their views in regard to ‘marriage and the like’. Mrs. Carlyle was at first ‘greatly taken with’ Mrs. Taylor, whose relations with Mill were now beginning and causing some anxiety to his friends and family. J. S. Mill was contemplating the London Review, having become dissatisfied with the Westminster. Carlyle had been told (January 1834) that W. J. Fox was to edit the new venture. He seems, however, to have had some hopes of being made editor himself, and was disappointed on finding that the other arrangement was to be carried out. It appears from Mill's Autobiography that Molesworth, who provided the funds, had stipulated that Mill himself should be the real, if not the ostensible, editor; and this probably put a stop to any thought of Carlyle
Carlyle now set to work upon the French Revolution, suggested by Mill's correspondence, and for which Mill sent him ‘barrowfuls’ of books. His position was precarious, and he notes (February 1835) that it is now ‘some twenty-three months since I have earned one penny by the craft of literature.’ Emerson had invited him to take up lecturing in America, and for some time Carlyle occasionally leaned to this scheme. His brother John entreated him to accept a share of his earnings. Carlyle refused, though in the most affectionate terms, and at times reproaching himself for denying John the pleasure. At last he had finished his first volume, and lent the only copy to Mill. On 6 March 1835 Mill came to his house with Mrs. Taylor to make the confession that the manuscript had been accidentally destroyed. Mill awkwardly stayed for two hours. When he left, Carlyle's first words to his wife were that they must try to conceal from Mill the full extent of the injury. Five months' labour was wasted, and it was equally serious that the enthusiasm to which Carlyle always wrought himself up was gone and could hardly be recovered. He felt as if he had staked and lost his last throw. Mill was anxious to make up at least the pecuniary loss, and Carlyle ultimately accepted £100. Slowly and with great difficulty Carlyle regained his mood and repaired his loss. A vague suggestion of some employment in national education came to nothing; he declined the editorship of a newspaper at Lichfield; and declined also, with some indignation at the offensive tone of patronage, an offer of a clerkship of £200 a year in Basil Montagu's office. He admired Montagu's faith that ‘a polar bear, reduced to a state of dyspeptic digestion, might safely be trusted tending rabbits.’ A visit of four weeks to his mother at the end of 1835, and a visit from John Carlyle in the summer of 1836, relieved his toils. At last, in the evening of 12 January 1837, he finished his manuscript, and gave it to his wife, saying that he could tell the world, ‘You have not had for a hundred years any book that comes more direct and flamingly from the heart of a living man. Do what you like with it, you 4.’
Six months elapsed before its publication. A few articles, the Diamond Necklace (refused by the Foreign Quarterly when written at Craigenputtock, and published in Fraser in the spring of 1837), Mirabeau and the Parliamentary History of the French Revolution supplied some funds. Miss Martineau, whose acquaintance he had made in November 1836, now suggested that he might lecture in England as well as America. With some other friends she collected subscriptions, and he gave a course of six lectures at Willis's Rooms upon ‘German Literature’ in May 1837. He interested his audience and made a net gain of £135. In May 1838 he repeated the experiment, giving a course of twelve lectures on ‘The whole Spiritual History of Man from the earliest times until now,’ and earning nearly £300. In May 1839 he again lectured on the ‘French Revolution,’ making nearly £200; and in May 1840, upon ‘Hero-worship,’ receiving again about £200. The last course alone was published. The lectures were successful, the broad accent contributing to the effect of the original style and sentiment; and the money results were important. Carlyle felt that oratorical success was unwholesome and the excitement trying. He never spoke again in public, except in his Edinburgh address of 1866.
The first course had finally lifted Carlyle above want. The French Revolution gained a decided success. The sale was slow at first, but good judges approved. Mill reviewed him enthusiastically in the Westminster, and thinks that he contributed materially to the early success of the book. Carlyle, exhausted by his work, spent two months at Scotsbrig, resting and smoking pipes with his mother. He saw the grand view of the Cumberland mountains as he went, and says: ‘Tartarus itself, and the pale kingdoms of Dis, could not have been more preternatural to me — most stern, gloomy, sad, grand yet terrible, yet steeped in woe.’ He returned, however, refreshed by the rest and his mother's society, to find his position materially improved, and to be enabled at once to send off substantial proofs of the improvement to his mother. Editors became attentive, and Fraser now proposed an edition of Sartor Resartus and of the collected Essays. America was also beginning to send him supplies. Emerson secured the publication for the author's benefit of the French Revolution and the Miscellanies, and it seems from the different statements in their correspondence that Carlyle must have received about £500 from this source in 1838-1842. The later books were appropriated by American publishers without recompense to the author. Carlyle had made some valuable friendships during these years, and his growing fame opened the houses of many well-known people. His relations to Mill gradually cooled; Mill's friends repelled him; though he still (1837) thought Mill ‘infinitely too good’ for his associates, he loved him as ‘a friend frozen in ice for me’. The radical difference of opinions and Mill's own gradual withdrawal from society widened the gulf to complete separation. John Sterling had accidentally met Carlyle in Mill's company in February 1835. Sterling had just given up the clerical career. He became a disciple of Carlyle, though at first with many differences, and gained the warmest affection of his master. An introduction to Sterling's father, with an offer of employment on the Times, honourably rejected by Carlyle, followed. The friendship is commemorated in the most delightful of Carlyle's writings. Through Sterling, Carlyle came to know F. D. Maurice. The genuine liking shared by all who had personal intercourse with Maurice was tempered by a profound conviction of the futility of Maurice's philosophy. Another friend, Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, was acquired about this time, and was always loved by Carlyle in spite of Mrs. Carlyle's occasional mockery. He made some acquaintance, too, with persons of social position. Lord Monteagle sought him out in 1838. He thus came into connection with Mr. James Garth Marshall, who in 1839 gave him a horse and was always hospitable and friendly. Other friends were J. G. Lockhart, Connop Thirlwall, and Monckton Milnes, afterwards Lord Houghton, whom in 1841 and afterwards he visited at Fryston. The most important friendship was with William Bingham Baring, afterwards Lord Ashburton and his wife, Lady Harriet Baring. They appear first to have met in 1839. Carlyle was thus becoming known in society as well as sought out by young inquirers. Dinner-parties produced indigestion, and his resentment of patronage, fully shared by his wife, made him a rather dangerous guest. His conversation could be most impressive, though he was too intolerant of contradiction. He could not enjoy thoroughly, or tempered enjoyment with remorse, and the spasms of composition were followed by fits of profound gloom and dyspeptic misery.
The conclusion of the French Revolution was followed by a period of rather desultory work. Two articles in the Westminster were the chief product of 1838. In 1839 his collected essays first appeared; and in the winter he began to agitate for the formation of the London Library, now almost the only institution where any but the newest books can be freely taken out in the metropolis. The need of such a library had been strongly impressed upon him by his previous labours, and it was successfully started in 1840. Carlyle was its president from 1870 till his death. J. S. Mill had resigned the editorship of the Westminster to a young Scotchman named Robertson. He had previously asked Carlyle to write upon Cromwell. Robertson informed Carlyle that he meant to write the article himself. Carlyle was naturally annoyed; but his attention having been drawn to the subject, he began some desultory studies, which ultimately led to the composition of his next great book. Some occasional writings intervened. He had written what was intended as an article for Lockhart. It soon appeared, however, to be unsuitable for the Quarterly. Lockhart ‘dared not’ take it. Mill would have accepted it for the Westminster, which he was now handing over to Mr. Hickson. Mrs. Carlyle and John declared that it was too good for such a fate, and it appeared as a separate book, under the name Chartism, at the end of 1839. It may be taken as Carlyle's explicit avowal of the principles which distinguished him equally from whigs, tories, and the ordinary radicals. A thousand copies were sold at once, and a second edition appeared in 1840. In 1841 he published the lectures on ‘Hero-worship’ delivered in the previous year, and his other books were selling well. In 1841 he declined a proposal to stand for a professorship of history at Edinburgh; and in 1844 a similar offer from St. Andrews. He was no longer in need of such support. In 1842, while still preparing for Cromwell, and greatly moved by the prevalent misery and discontent, he came across the chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond, published in 1840 by the Camden Society, and made the story of Abbot Sampson the nucleus of a discourse upon his familiar topics. It was written in the first seven weeks of 1843, and published as Past and Present immediately afterwards. The brilliant picture of a fragment of mediæval life helped the rather confused mass of gloomy rhetoric, and the book made more stir than most of his writings, and has preserved a high position.
Meanwhile he was labouring at Cromwell. He had first begun serious work in the autumn of 1840. He was now making acquaintance with ‘Dryasdust’ for the first time. He had never been enslaved to a biographical dictionary; and the dreary work of investigating dull records provoked loud lamentations and sometimes despair. His thoughts lay round him ‘all inarticulate, sour, fermenting, bottomless, like a hideous enormous bog of Allen.’ He resolved at last ‘to force and tear and dig some kind of main ditch through it.’ In plain words, it seems, he gave up hopes of writing a regular history; burnt much that he had written; and resolved to begin by making a collection of all Cromwell's extant speeches and letters with explanatory comments. Having finished this, he found to his surprise that he had finished his book.. He stayed in London during 1844 and 1845 till the task was done. The book appeared in the autumn of 1845, and was received with general applause. Carlyle's position as a leader of literature was now established. His income was still modest, but sufficient for his strictly economical mode of life. In 1848 he had a fixed income from Craigenputtock of £150, besides a fluctuating income from his books, ranging from £100 to £800. After finishing the French Revolution he visited Scotland almost annually to spend some weeks alone with his mother and family. In 1840 his holiday was sacrificed to the preparation for press of the lectures on Hero-worship, when he took care to send to his mother part of the sums saved from travelling expenses. In 1844 he was kept at home by Cromwell. He paid a few other visits: to the Hares in Sussex in 1840, to Milnes at Fryston in 1841, to an admirer named Redwood, near Cardiff, whence he visited Bishop Thirlwall in 1843; and in 1842 he took a five days' run across the Channel with Stephen Spring Rice in an admiralty yacht. His vivid description is partly given in Froude. Mrs. Carlyle sometimes went with him to Scotland and visited her relations, or stayed at home to superintend house-cleanings, periods during which his absence was clearly desirable. In London his appearances in society were fitful, and during his absorption in his chief works Mrs. Carlyle was left to a very solitary life, though she read and criticised his performances as they were completed. She gradually formed a circle of friends of her own. Miss Geraldine Jewsbury, attracted by Carlyle's fame, made their acquaintance in 1841, and became Mrs. Carlyle's most intimate friend. Refugees, including Mazzini and Cavaignac (brother of the general), came to the house. Lord Tennyson, much loved by both, and Arthur Helps, who got on better with Mrs. Carlyle than with her husband, were other friends. John Forster, Macready, Dickens, and Thackeray are also occasionally mentioned. She was less terrible than her husband to shy visitors, though on occasion she could aim equally effective blows. Death was thinning the old circle. John Sterling died after a pathetic farewell, 18 September 1844. Mrs. Welsh, Mrs. Carlyle's mother, died suddenly at the end of February 1842. Mrs. Carlyle, already in delicate health, was prostrated by the blow, and lay unable to be moved at the house of her uncle (John Welsh) in Liverpool. Carlyle went to Templand, where Mrs. Welsh had lived, and had to spend two months there and at Scotsbrig arranging business. His letters were most tender, though a reference to a possibility of a new residence at Craigenputtock appears to have shaken his wife's nerves. On her next birthday (14 July) he sent her a present, and never afterwards forgot to do so. She was deeply touched, and remarked that in great matters he had always been kind and considerate, and was now becoming equally attentive on little matters, to which his education and temper had made him indifferent. She went for a rest to Troston, a living belonging to Reginald Buller, son of their old friends the Charles Bullers, where Mrs. Charles Buller was now staying with her son. Charles the younger died in 1848, when Carlyle wrote an elegy to his memory, published in the Examiner. Mrs. Buller read it just before she too died of grief.
In December 1845 the Carlyles visited the Barings at Bay House, near Alverstoke.
Mrs. Carlyle became jealous of Lady Harriet's influence over Carlyle; and Lady
Harriet, though courteous, was not sufficiently cordial to remove the feeling.
Each apparently misjudged the other. Mrs. Carlyle was weakly and irritable,
and a painful misunderstanding followed with Carlyle.
In July 1846 she left him to stay with her friends the Paulets at Seaforth. She confided in Mazzini, who gave her wise and honourable advice. Carlyle himself wrote most tenderly, though without the desired effect. He saw that her feeling was unreasonable, but unfortunately inferred that it might be disregarded. He therefore persisted in keeping up his relations with the Barings, while she took refuge in reticence, and wrote to him in terms which persuaded him too easily that the difficulty was over. She visited the Barings with and without her husband, accepted the use of their house at Addiscombe, and preserved external good relations, while recording her feelings in a most painful journal, published in the Memorials. This suppressed alienation lasted till the death of Lady Ashburton.
The publication of Cromwell had left Carlyle without occupation, except that the discovery of new letters which had to be embodied in the second edition gave him some work in 1846. He had read Preuss's work upon Frederick in 1844, and was thinking of an expedition to Berlin after finishing Cromwell. In February 1848 he notes that he has been for above two years composedly lying fallow. He mentions schemes for future work. The ‘exodus from Houndsditch’ meant a discourse upon the liberation of the spirit of religion from ‘Hebrew Old Clothes.’ This he felt to be an impossible task; the external shell could not as yet be attacked without injury to the spirit, and he therefore remained silent to the last. A book upon Ireland, one upon the Scavenger Age, and a life of Sterling also occurred to him. In 1846 he paid a flying visit to Ireland in the first days of September, and saw O'Connell in Conciliation Hall. The outbreaks of 1848 affected him deeply. He sympathised with the destruction of ‘shams,’ but felt that the only alternative was too probably anarchy. He again visited Ireland in 1849, spending July there, and again meeting Gavan Duffy and others. His Journal was published in 1882. He came home convinced that he could say nothing to the purpose upon the chaotic state of things, where he could discover no elements of order. His general views of the political and social state found utterance, however, in an ‘Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question,’ first published in Fraser's Magazine in February 1849. It was a vehement denunciation of the philanthropic sentimentalism which had ruined the West India islands and left the negro to sink into barbarism. Mill replied forcibly in Fraser, and the separation between them became complete. In the course of 1850 Carlyle published the Latter-day Pamphlets, the most vehement and occasionally savage assertions of his principles. Mr. Froude describes him at this time as pouring out the still unpublished matter ‘in a torrent of sulphurous denunciation.’ His excitement carried him away into astonishing displays of grotesque humour and vivid imagination, while his hearers listened in silence or were overpowered by his rhetoric. The pamphlets gave general offence. Mr. Froude says that the outcry stopped the sale for many months and even years. An outcry generally has the opposite effect. The truth rather seems to be that, in spite of their power and eloquence, the pamphlets were failures. Carlyle had too little experience of actual business to deliver telling blows. The denunciations were too indiscriminate to be biting, and the only satisfactory reform suggested, the miraculous advent of a hero and conversion of the people, was hardly capable of application to facts. The pamphlets were neglected as stupendous growls from a misanthropic recluse, though perhaps they were in reality neither misanthropic nor without a sound core of common sense.
In 1851 he at last set to work upon a life of Sterling, the final impulse coming, as Mr. Froude conjectures from a conversation at Lord Ashburton's in which Carlyle and Bishop Thirlwall had an animated theological discussion in presence of Dr. Trench (the dean of Westminster), Sir John Simeon, and others. Carlyle's immediate purpose was to write an account of Sterling to supplant the life by Julius Hare, where the theological element had received, as he thought, undue prominence. He agreed with Emerson in the summer of 1848 that Sterling must not be made a ‘theological cockshy.’ Carlyle wished to exhibit him as raised above the turbid sphere of contemporary controversy. The result was a book so calm, tender, and affectionate as to be in singular contrast with his recent utterances, and to be perhaps his most successful piece of literary work.
He was now slowly settling to a life of Frederick. In 1851 he tried the water-cure at Malvern, and made friends with Dr. Gully, but considered the cure to be a humbug. He visited Scotsbrig, and, after spending a few days at Paris with the Ashburtons, began seriously working at Frederick. Six months of steady reading followed, during which he secluded himself almost entirely. Repairs of the house maddened him in July, and, finding it impossible to stay, he visited Thomas Erskine at Linlathen, and sailed from Leith (30 August 1852) to Rotterdam, whence, with Mr. Neuberg, a German admirer resident in London, for courier, he made a tour through Germany, much worried by noises and bugs, but acquiring materials for his work. The book, however, gave him much trouble, and caused the usual fits of despondency and irritability before it was started. He stayed in London through 1853, nailing himself to his work, through troubles of fresh paint and ‘demon fowls’ next door, while Mrs. Carlyle went to stay with John Carlyle at Moffat. She was at Scotsbrig during an alarming illness of his mother, and the sympathy called forth brought the husband and wife into closer relations for the time. On 4 December he wrote to his mother a most affectionate letter, as he was leaving for the Grange. Mrs. Carlyle, who accompanied him, returned to Chelsea to make an arrangement for permanently quelling the ‘demon fowls,’ whose proprietors were coming to an end of their lease. She was better qualified for such negotiations than he, but appears to have resented the employment. He then heard of his mother's serious illness. He reached Scotsbrig on Friday, 23 December 1853. She was able to recognise him, but died quietly on 25 December aged about eighty-four. Carlyle had loved no one better, and had done all that a son could do to make a mother happy. He returned to shut himself up and try to settle to his work. The wrestle with Frederick went on through 1854, with scarcely a holiday. A ‘sound-proof’ room, begun in 1853, built at the top of the house and lighted only from above gave him a retreat, where he remained buried for hours, emerging only at tea-time for a short talk with his wife, whose health became gradually weaker. After eighteen months' steady labour, he took a holiday with Edward Fitzgerald at Woodbridge (August 1855), and afterwards spent a little time at the Ashburtons' vacant house at Addiscombe, where Mrs. Carlyle chose to leave him alone. In 1856 the Carlyles went to Scotland with the Ashburtons, when a miserable little incident about a railway journey caused fresh annoyance. Carlyle went to Scotsbrig and the Gill (his sister Mary Austin's house near Annan), taking his work with him. A short visit to the Ashburtons in the highlands, and a dispute about the return home, caused fresh bitterness. The winter found him again at his work, and the days went by monotonously, a long ride every afternoon on his horse Fritz being his only relaxation. Lady Ashburton's death (4 May 1857) removed a cause of discord, though it deprived him of a solace. Lord Ashburton's second marriage (17 November 1858) to Miss Stuart Mackenzie brought a new and most valuable friendship to both the Carlyles. In July 1857 the first chapters of Frederick were at last getting into print. Mrs. Carlyle took a holiday at Liverpool, and came back rather better. The old confidence returned with the removal of the cause of irritation. In the winter, however, her health showed serious symptoms, and Carlyle made great efforts to restrain his complaints. Mr. Larkin, a next-door neighbour, helped him in his work with maps, indices, and so forth. At last the first instalment of his book, on which he had been occupied for six or seven years, was finished. At the end of June he went to Scotland, and then in August and September visited Germany again, returning to Chelsea on 22 September 1858, having fixed in his mind the aspects of Frederick's battle-fields. The first two volumes appeared soon after his return, and four thousand copies were sold before the end of the year. The fifth thousand was printed, and Carlyle had received £2,800.
The later volumes of Frederick appeared in 1862, 1864, and 1865. In 1859 he stayed at Aberdeen with Mrs. Carlyle, and in 1860 he visited Thurso. After that time his labours at Frederick allowed him no respite. In August 1862 he speaks of the fifth volume as already in hand; but it swelled into two, and the final emergence was not till January 1865. The extraordinary merits of the book, considered as a piece of historical research, were recognised both in England and Germany. Military students in Germany study Frederick's battles in Carlyle's history, a proof both of his careful study and of his wonderful power of observation. Emerson declared that Frederick was the ‘wittiest book ever written.’ The humour and the graphic power are undeniable, though it is perhaps wanting in proportion, and the principles implied are of course disputable.
The later period of Carlyle's labours had been darkened by anxiety about his wife's health. In 1860 he had insisted upon the addition of another servant to the maid of all work with whom she had hitherto been contented. As he became conscious of her delicacy he became thoughtful and generous. In 1862 he sent her for a holiday to her intimate friends, Dr. and Mrs. Russell of Thornhill. She was a little better during the following winter, and, though weak, contrived to avoid exciting Carlyle's anxiety. In August 1863 she was knocked down by a cab. The accident had serious consequences which gradually developed themselves, though Carlyle for a time imagined that she was improving. The suffering grew to be intense, and Carlyle became awake to the danger. In March 1864 she was removed to the house of her family physician, Dr. Blakiston, at St. Leonard's. The death of Lord Ashburton on 23 March 1864 (who left Carlyle £2,000) saddened both. Carlyle remained for a time struggling with Frederick till her absence became intolerable, and in the beginning of May he settled with her in a furnished house at St. Leonard's, still working hard, but taking daily drives with her. At last in desperation she determined, after twelve nights of sleeplessness, to go at all hazards to Scotland. She stayed there first at the Gill and afterwards with the Russells, slowly improving, and she finally returned in the beginning of October. Her apparent recovery affected some of her friends to tears. Carlyle bought her a brougham, having previously only been able to persuade her to indulge in an occasional hired carriage. She took great delight in it, and for the remainder of her life had no complaints to make of any want of attention. Carlyle fell into his usual depression after the conclusion of Frederick (January 1865). He went with his wife to Devonshire for a time and afterwards to Scotland, returning in the winter. Mrs. Carlyle was better, occasionally dining abroad. At the end of 1865 Carlyle was elected almost unanimously to the rectorship of Edinburgh. He delivered the customary address, 2 April 1866. Professor Tyndall had taken charge of him during the journey, acting like the ‘loyallest son.’ The address, as Tyndall telegraphed to Mrs. Carlyle, was ‘a perfect triumph.’ The mildness of the tone secured for it a universal applause, which rather puzzled Carlyle and seems to have a little scandalised his disciples. Carlyle went to Scotsbrig and was detained by a slight sprain. Mrs. Carlyle had asked some friends to tea on Saturday, 21 April. She had gone out for a drive with a little dog; she let it out for a run, when a carriage knocked it down. She sprang out and lifted it into the carriage. The driver went on, and presently she was found sitting with folded hands in the carriage, dead. The news reached Carlyle at Dumfries. Mrs. Carlyle had preserved two wax candles which her mother had once prepared for a party at her house. Mrs. Carlyle had hurt her mother's feelings by economically refusing to use them. She had left directions, which were now carried out, that they should be lighted in the room of death. She was buried at Haddington, in her father's grave. A pathetic epitaph by her husband was placed in the church.
Henceforward Carlyle's life was secluded, and work became impossible. His brother John tried staying with him for a time, but the plan was given up. He stayed for a time with Miss Davenport Bromley, one of his wife's best friends, at Ripple Court, Walmer. He was moved to indignation by the prosecution of Governor Eyre, which he considered as punishing a man for throwing an extra bucket of water into a ship on fire. He joined the Eyre Defence Committee. In the winter he visited Lady Ashburton at Mentone, travelling again under the affectionate guardianship of Professor Tyndall, and returning to Cheyne Row in March. During this melancholy period he wrote most of the Reminiscences. On returning he arranged a bequest of Craigenputtock, now his absolute property, to found bursaries at Edinburgh. He revised his collected works, which were now gaining a wide circulation. He put together and annotated Mrs. Carlyle's letters. In 1868 he had to give up riding; and about 1872 his right hand, which had long shaken, became unable to write. Seven years before his death all writing became impossible. An article on 'Shooting Niagara' in Macmillan's Magazine 1867 showed his view of contemporary politics. On 18 November 1870 he wrote a Defence of the German Case in the War with France, which was warmly acknowledged through Count Bernstorff, the ambassador, and separately printed. On 5 May 1877 he wrote a remarkable letter, stating in a few words his positive knowledge that a plan had been formed by Lord Beaconsfield's government which would produce a war with Russia. What his authority may have been remains unknown, nor can it be said how far the statement had any important influence in averting the danger.
Carlyle during these years had become the acknowledged head of English literature. He had a large number of applications of all kinds. He was generous even to excess in money matters. In February 1874 he received the Prussian Order of Merit, for his services as the historian of Frederick. In December 1874 Disraeli offered him, in very delicate and flattering terms, the grand cross of the Bath and a pension. Carlyle declined both offers in a dignified letter, though touched by the magnanimity of the ‘only man,’ as he said, of whom he had ‘never spoken except with contempt.’ On his eightieth birthday he received a congratulatory letter from Prince Bismarck, and a medal, with an address from many admirers led by Professor Masson. The gloom, however, deepened, and he would sometimes express a wish that the old fashion of suicide were still permissible. He specially felt the death of Erskine of Linlathen (30 March 1870). His brother Alexander died in Canada in 1876, asking in his last wanderings whether ‘Tom’ was coming home from Edinburgh. John died in December 1879. Carlyle still took pleasure in the writings and companionship of a few congenial friends, especially Mr. Ruskin, Mr. Froude, and Mr. Justice Stephen. The last two were his executors. His talk was still often brilliant, whether a declamation of the old fashion or a pouring forth of personal reminiscences. However harsh his judgments, he never condescended to retailing injurious anecdotes. He walked daily as long as he was able, and afterwards took drives in flies and omnibuses. His figure, much bent with age, was familiar to many London wayfarers. He gradually sank, and died on 4 February 1881. A burial at Westminster Abbey was offered, but refused in accordance with his own wish, as he disapproved of certain passages in the Anglican service. He was buried, as he desired, in the old kirkyard at Ecclefechan, by his parents.
Every page of Carlyle's writings reveals a character of astonishing force and originality. The antagonism roused by his vehement iconoclasm was quenched by respect during his last years, only to break out afresh upon the appearance of the Reminiscences. His style, whether learnt at home or partly acquired under the influence of Irving and Richter, faithfully reflects his idiosyncrasy. Though his language is always clear, and often pure and exquisite English, its habitual eccentricities offended critics, and make it the most dangerous of models. They are pardonable as the only fitting embodiment of his graphic power, his shrewd insight into human nature, and his peculiar humour, which blends sympathy for the suffering with scorn for fools. His faults of style are the result of the perpetual straining for emphasis of which he was conscious, and which must be attributed to an excessive nervous irritability seeking relief in strong language, as well as to a superabundant intellectual vitality. Conventionality was for him the deadly sin. Every sentence must be alive to its finger's ends. As a thinker he judges by intuition instead of calculation. In history he tries to see the essential facts stripped of the glosses of pedants; in politics to recognise the real forces masked by constitutional mechanism; in philosophy to hold to the living spirit untrammelled by the dead letter. He thus cast aside contemptuously what often appeared to ordinary minds to be of the essence. Though no man was more hostile to materialism, he appeared as a sceptic in theology; and though more revolutionary in his aims than the ordinary radicals, they often confounded his contempt for ballot-boxes and parliamentary contrivances with a sympathy for arbitrary force. In truth, the prophet who reveals and the hero who acts could be his only guides. Their authority must be manifested by its own light, and the purblind masses must be guided by loyalty to heaven-sent leaders. No mechanical criterion can be provided, and the demand for such a criterion shows incapacity even to grasp the problem. The common charge that he confounded right with might was indignantly repudiated by him as the exact inversion of his real creed. That only succeeds which is based on divine truth, and permanent success therefore proves the right, as the effect proves the cause. But it must be confessed that the doctrine presupposes a capacity for ‘swallowing all formulas,’ or of overriding even moral conventions, in confidence of genuine insight into realities. The man who can safely break through ordinary rules must be guarded by a special inspiration, and by common observers the Cromwell must often be confounded with the Napoleon. Whatever may be thought of Carlyle's teaching, the merits of a preacher must be estimated rather by his stimulus to thought than by the soundness of his conclusions. Measured by such a test, Carlyle was unapproached in his day. He stirred the mass of readers rather by antagonism than sympathy; but his intense moral convictions, his respect for realities, and his imaginative grasp of historical facts give unique value to his writings. His autobiographical writings, with all their display of superficial infirmities, are at least so full of human nature as to be unsurpassable for interest even in the most fascinating department of literature.
|Meet the web creator||
These materials may be freely used for
non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances
and distribution to students.
Last modified 12 January, 2016
|American Affairs 1760-83||The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815||Irish Affairs 1760-89|
|Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel||Irish
|Primary sources index||British Political Personalities||British Foreign policy 1815-65||European history||