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Past and Present: Thomas Carlyle, 1843

Book 4 Chapter 6: The Landed

A man with fifty, with five hundred, with a thousand pounds a day, given him freely, without condition at all, - on condition as it now seems, that he will sit with his hands in his pockets, and do no mischief, pass no corn-laws or the like, - he too, you would say, is or might be a rather strong Worker! He is a Worker with such tools as no man in this world ever before had. But, in practice, very astonishing, very ominous to look at, he proves not a strong Worker; - you are too happy if he will prove but a No-worker, do nothing, and not be a Wrong-Worker.

You ask him, at the year’s end, “Where is your three hundred thousand pounds; what have you realised to us with that?” He answers, in indignant surprise, “Done with it? Who are you that ask? I have eaten it, I and my flunkies, and parasites, and slaves two-footed and four-footed, in an ornamental manner; and I am here alive by it; I am realised by it to you!” It is, as we have often said, such an answer as was never before given under this Sun. An answer that fills me with boding apprehension, with foreshadows of despair. O stolid use-and-worst of an atheistic Half Century, O Ignavia, Tailor-godhood, soul-killing Cant, to what passes art thou bringing us! Out of the loudpiping whirlwind, audibly to him that has ears, the Highest God is again announcing in these days: “Idleness shall not be.” God has said it, man cannot gainsay.

Ah, how happy were it, if he, this Aristocratic Worker would, in like manner, see his work and do it! It is frightful seeking another to do it for him. Guillotines, Meudon Tanneries, and half-a-million men shot dead, have already been expended in that business; and it is yet far from done. This man too is something; nay he is a great thing. Look on him there: a man of manful aspect; something of the ‘cheerfulness of pride’ still lingering in him. A free air of graceful stoicism, of easy silent dignity sits well on him; in his heart, could we reach it, lie elements of generosity, self-sacrificing justice, true human valour. Why should he, with such appliances, stand an incumbrance in the Present; perish disastrously out of the Future! From no section of the Future would we lose these noble courtesies, - impalpable yet all-controlling; these dignified reticences, these kingly simplicities, - lose aught of what the fruitful Past still gives us token of, memento of, in this man! Can we not save him; - can he not help us to save him! A brave man he too, had not undivine Ignavia, Hearsay, Speech without meaning, - had not Cant, thousandfold Cant within him, and around him, enveloping him like choke-damp, like thick Egyptian darkness, thrown his soul into asphyxia, as it were extinguished his soul; so that he sees not, hears not, and Moses and all the Prophets address him in vain.

Will he awaken, be alive again, and have a soul; or is this death-fit very death? It is a question of questions, for himself and for us all! Alas, is there no noble work for this man too? Has he not thickheaded ignorant boors; lazy, enslaved farmers, weedy lands? Lands! Has he not weary heavy-laden ploughers of land; immortal souls of men, ploughing, ditching, day-drudging, bare of back, empty of stomach, nigh desperate of heart; and none peaceably to help them but he under Heaven? Does he find, with his three hundred thousand pounds, no noble thing trodden down in the thoroughfares, which it were godlike to help up? Can he do nothing for his Burns but make a Gauger of him; lionize him, bedinner him, for a foolish while; then whistle him down the wind to desperation and bitter death? His work too is difficult, in these modern, far-dislocated ages. But it may be done; it may be tried, - it must be done.

A modern Duke of Weimar, not a god he either, but a human Duke, levied, as I reckon, in rents and taxes and all incomings whatsoever, less than several of our English Dukes do in rent alone. The Duke of Weimar, with these incomings, had to govern, judge, defend, every way administer his Dukedom. He does all this as few others did: and he improves lands besides all this, makes river-embankments, maintains not soldiers only but Universities and Institutions; - and in his Court were there four men: Wieland, Herder, Schiller, Goethe. Not as parasites which was impossible; not as table-wits and poetic Katerfeltoes; but as noble Spiritual Men working under a noble Practical Man. Shielded by him from many miseries, - perhaps from many shortcomings, destructive aberrations. Heaven had sent, once more, heavenly Light into the world; and this man’s honour was that he gave it welcome. A new noble kind of Clergy under an old but still noble kind of King! I reckon that this one Duke of Weimar did more for the Culture of his Nation, than all the English Dukes and Duces now extant, or that were extant since Henry the Eighth gave them the Church Lands to eat, have done for theirs! - I am ashamed, I am alarmed for my English Dukes: What word have I to say?

If our actual Aristocracy appointed ‘Best and Bravest,’ will be wise, how inexpressibly happy for us! If not, - the voice of God from the whirlwind is very audible to me. Nay, I will thank the Great God; that He has said, in whatever fearful ways, and just wrath against us, “Idleness shall be no more.” Idleness? The awakened soul of man, all but the asphyxied soul of man, turns from it as from worse than Death. It is the Life-in-Death of Poet Coleridge. That fable of the Dead-Sea Apes ceases to be a fable. The poor Worker starved to death is not the saddest of sights. He lies there, dead on his shield: fallen down into the bosom of his old Mother; with haggard, pale face, sorrow-worn, but stilled now into divine peace, silently appeals to the Eternal God and all the Universe, - the most silent, the most eloquent of men.

Exceptions, ah yes, thank Heaven, we know there are exceptions. Our case were too hard were there not exceptions, and partial exceptions not a few, whom we know, and whom we do not know. Honour to the name of Ashley, - honour to this and the other valiant Abdiel, found faithful still; - who would fain, by work and by word, admonish their Order not to rush upon destruction! These are they who will, if not save their Order, postpone the wreck of it; - by whom, under blessing of the Upper Powers, ‘a quiet euthanasia spread over generations, instead of a swift torture-death concentered into years,’ may be brought about for many things. All honour and success to these. The noble man can still strive nobly to save and serve his Order; at lowest, he can remember the precept of the Prophet: “Come out of her my people; come out of her!”

To sit idle aloft, like living statues, like absurd Epicurus’-gods, in pampered isolation, in exclusion from the glorious fateful battlefield of this God’s-World, - it is a poor life for a man, when all Upholsterers and French Cooks have done their utmost for it! - Nay, what a shallow delusion is this we have all got into. That any man should or can keep himself apart from men, have ‘no business’ with them, except a cash account ‘business’! It is the silliest tale a distressed generation of men ever took to telling one another. Men cannot live isolated; we are all bound together, for mutual good or else for mutual misery, as living nerves in the same body. No highest man can disunite himself from any lowest. Consider it. Your poor Werter blowing out his distracted existence because Charlotte will not have the keeping thereof: this is no peculiar phasis; it is simply the highest expression of a phasis traceable wherever one human creature meets another! Let the meanest crookbacked Thersites teach the supremest Agamemnon that he actually does not reverence him, the supremest Agamemnon’s eyes flash fire responsive; a real pain and partial insanity has seized Agamemnon. Strange enough: a many-counselled Ulysses is set in motion by a scoundrel blockhead; plays tunes, like a barrel organ, at the scoundrel-blockhead’s touch, - has to snatch, namely, his sceptre cudgel, and weal the crooked back with bumps and thumps!

Let a Chief of men reflect well on it. Not in having ‘no business’ with men, but in having no unjust business with them, and in having all manner of true and just business, can either his or their blessedness be found possible, and this waste world become, for both parties, a home and peopled garden.

Men reverence men. Men do worship in that ‘one temple of the world,’ as Novalis calls it, ‘the Presence of a Man.’ Hero-worship, true and blessed, or else mistaken, false and accursed, goes on everywhere and everywhen. In this world there is one godlike thing, the essence of all that was or ever will be of godlike in this world: the veneration done to Human Worth by the hearts of men. Hero-worship, in the souls of the heroic, of the clear and wise, - it is the perpetual Presence of Heaven in our poor Earth: when it is not there, Heaven is veiled from us; and all is under Heaven’s ban and interdict, and there is no worship, or worthship, or worth or blessedness in the Earth any more!

Independence, ‘lord of the lion-heart and eagle-eye,’ - alas, yes, he is a lord we have got acquainted with in these late times: a very indispensable lord, for spurning off with due energy innumerable sham-superiors, tailor-made: honour to him, entire success to him! Entire success is sure to him. But he must not stop there, at that small success, with his eagle eye. He has now a second far greater success to gain: To seek out his real superiors, whom not the Tailor but the Almighty God has made superior to him, and see a little what he will do with these? Rebel against these also? Pass by with minatory eagle-glance, with calm-sniffing mockery, or even without any mockery or sniff, when these present themselves? The lion-hearted will never dream of such a thing. Forever far be it from him! His minatory eagle-glance will veil itself in softness of the dove: his lion-heart will become a lamb’s; all its just indignation changed into just reverence, dissolved in blessed floods of noble humble love, how much heavenlier than any pride, nay, if you will, how much prouder! I know him, this lion-hearted eagle-eyed one; have met him, rushing on ‘with his bosom bare,’ in a very distracted, dishevelled manner, the times being hard; - and can say, and guarantee on my life, That in him is no rebellion; that in him is the reverse of rebellion, the needful preparation for obedience. For if you do mean to obey God-made superiors, your first step is to sweep out the Tailor-made ones; order them, under penalties, to vanish, to make ready for vanishing!

Nay, what is best of all, he cannot rebel if he would. Superiors whom God has made for us we cannot order to withdraw! Not in the least. No Grand-Turk himself, thickest quilted tailor-made Brother of the Sun and Moon, can do it: but an Arab man, in cloak of his own clouting, with black-beaming eyes, with flaming sovereign-heart direct from the centre of the Universe; and also, I am told, with terrible ‘horse-shoe vein’ of swelling wrath in his brow, and lightning (if you will not have it as light) tingling through every vein of him, - he rises; says authoritatively: “Thickest-quilted Grand Turk, tailor-made Brother of the Sun and Moon, No: - I withdraw not; thou shalt obey me or withdraw!” And so accordingly it is: thickest-quilted Grand-Turks and all their progeny, to this hour, obey that man in the remarkablest manner; preferring not to withdraw.

O brother, it is an endless consolation to me, in this disorganic, as yet so quack-ridden, what you may well call hag-ridden and hell-ridden world, to find that disobedience to the Heavens, when they send any messenger whatever, is and remains impossible. It cannot be done; no Turk grand or small can do it. ‘Shew the dullest clodpole,’ says my invaluable German Friend, ‘shew the haughtiest featherhead, that a soul higher than himself is here; were his knees stiffened into brass, he must down and worship.’

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