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Past and Present: Thomas Carlyle, 1843

Book 4 Chapter 7: The Gifted

Yes, in what tumultuous huge anarchy soever a Noble human Principle may dwell and strive, such tumult is in the way of being calmed into a fruitful sovereignty. It is inevitable. No chaos can continue chaotic with a soul in it. Besouled with earnest human Nobleness, did not slaughter, violence and fire-god fury, grow into a Chivalry; into a blessed Loyalty of Governor and Governed? And in Work, which is of itself noble, and the only true fighting, there shall be no such possibility? Believe it not; it is incredible; the whole Universe contradicts it. Here too the Chactaw Principle will be subordinated; the Man Principle will, by degrees, become superior, become supreme.

I know Mammon too; Banks-of-England, Credit-Systems, world-wide possibilities of work and traffic; and applaud and admire them. Mammon is like Fire; the usefullest of all servants, if the frightfullest of all masters! The Cliffords, Fitzadelms, and Chivalry Fighters ‘wished to gain victory,’ never doubt it: but victory, unless gained in a certain spirit, was no victory; defeat, sustained in a certain spirit, was itself victory. I say again and again, had they counted the scalps alone, they had continued Chactaws, and no Chivalry or lasting victory had been. And in Industrial Fighters and Captains is there no nobleness discoverable? To these alone of Men, shall there forever be no blessedness but in swollen coffers? To see beauty, order, gratitude, loyal human hearts around them, shall be of no moment; to see fuliginous deformity, mutiny, hatred and despair, with the addition of half a million guineas, shall be better? Heaven’s blessedness not there; Hell’s cursedness, and your half-million bits of metal a substitute for that! Is there no profit in diffusing Heaven’s blessedness, but only in gaining gold? - If so I apprise the Mill-owner and Millionaire, that he too must prepare for vanishing; that neither is he born to be of the sovereigns of this world; but to be trampled and chained down, in whatever terrible methods, and brass-collared safe, among the born thralls of this world! We cannot have Canailles and Doggeries that will not make some Chivalry of themselves: our noble Planet is impatient of such; in the end, totally intolerant of such!

For the Heavens, unwearying in their bounty, do send other souls into this world, to whom yet, as to their forerunners, in Old Roman, in Old Hebrew and all noble times, the omnipotent guinea is, on the whole an impotent guinea. Has your half-dead avaricious Corn-Law-Lord, your half-alive avaricious Cotton-Law-Lord, never seen one such? Such are, not one but several; are, and will be; unless the gods have doomed this world to swift dire ruin. These are they, the elect of the world; the born champions, strong men, and liberatory Samsons of this poor world: whom the poor Delilah world will not always shear of their strength and eyesight, and set to grind in darkness at its poor gin-wheel! Such souls are, in these days, getting somewhat out of humour with the world. Your very Byron, in these days, is at least driven mad; flatly refuses fealty to the world. The world with its injustices, its golden brutalities, and dull yellow guineas, is a disgust to such souls: the ray of Heaven that is in them does at least predoom them to be very miserable here. Yes: - and yet all misery is faculty misdirected, strength that has not yet found its way. The black whirlwind is mother of the lightning. No smoke, in any sense, but can become flame and radiance! Such soul, once graduated in Heaven’s stern University, steps out superior to your guinea.

Dost thou know, O sumptuous Corn-Lord, Cotton-Lord, mutinous Trades-unionist gin-vanquished, undeliverable; O much enslaved world, - this man is not a slave with thee! None of thy promotions is necessary for him. His place is with the stars of Heaven: to thee it may be momentous, to him it is indifferent, whether thou place him in the lowest hut, or forty feet higher at the top of thy stupendous high tower, while here on Earth. The joys of Earth that are precious, they depend not on thee and thy promotions. Food and raiment, and, round a social hearth, souls who love him, whom he loves: these are already his. He wants none of thy rewards; behold also, he fears none of thy penalties. Thou canst not answer by killing him; the case of Anaxarchus thou canst kill; but not the self of Anaxarchus, the word or act of Anaxarchus. To this man death is not a bugbear; to this man life is already as earnest and awful, and beautiful and terrible as death.

Not a May-game is this man’s life; but a battle and a march, a warfare with principalities and powers. No idle promenade through fragrant orange-groves and green flowery spaces, waited on by the choral Muses and the rosy Hours: it is a stern pilgrimage through burning sandy solitudes, through regions of thick-ribbed ice. He walks among men; loves men, with inexpressible soft pity, - as they cannot love him: but his soul dwells in solitude, in the uttermost parts of Creation. In green oases by the palm-tree wells, he rests a space; but anon he has to journey forward, escorted by the Terrors and the Splendours, the Archdemons and Archangels. All Heaven, all Pandemonium are his escort. The stars, keen-glancing, from the Immensities, send tidings to him; the graves, silent with their dead, from the Eternities. Deep calls for him unto Deep.

Thou, O world, how wilt thou secure thyself against this man? Thou canst not hire him by thy guineas; not by thy gibbets and law-penalties restrain him. He eludes thee like a spirit. Thou canst not forward him, thou canst not hinder him. Thy penalties, thy poverties, neglects, contumelies: behold, all these are good for him. Come to him as an enemy; turn from him as an unfriend; only do not this one thing, - infect him not with thy own delusion: the benign Genius, were it by very death, shall guard him against this! - What wilt thou do with him? He is above thee like a god. Thou, in thy stupendous three-inch pattens, art under him. He is thy born king, thy conqueror and supreme Lawgiver: not all the guineas, and cannons, and leather and prunella under the sky can save thee from him. Hardest thick-skinned Mammon-world, ruggedest Caliban, shall obey him, or become not Caliban but a cramp. O, if in this man, whose eyes can flash Heaven’s Lightning, and make all Calibans into a cramp, there dwelt not, as the essence of his very being, a God’s Justice, human Nobleness, Veracity and Mercy, - I should tremble for the World. But his strength, let us rejoice to understand, is even this: The quantity of Justice, of Valour and Pity that is in him. To hypocrites and tailored quacks in high places, his eyes are lightning; but they melt in dewy Pity softer than a mother’s to the downpressed, maltreated; in his heart, in his great thought, is a sanctuary for all the wretched. This world’s improvement is forever sure.

‘Man of Genius?’ Thou hast small notion, meseems, O Mæcenas Twiddledee, of what a Man of Genius is! Read in thy New Testament, and elsewhere, - if, with floods of mealy mouthed inanity, with miserable froth-vortices of Cant now several centuries old, thy New Testament is not all bedimmed for thee. Canst thou read in thy New Testament at all? The Highest Man of Genius, knowest thou Him; Godlike and a God to this hour? His crown a Crown of Thorns? Thou fool, with thy empty Godhoods, Apotheoses edge gilt; the Crown of Thorns made into a poor jewel-room Crown, fit for the head of blockheads; the bearing of the Cross changed to a riding in the Long-Acre Gig! Pause in thy mass-chauntings, in thy litanyings, and Calmuck prayings by machinery; and pray, if noisily, at least in a more human manner. How with thy rubrics and dalmatics, and clothwebs and cobwebs, and with thy stupidities and grovelling base-heartedness, hast thou hidden the Holiest into all but invisibility! -

‘Man of Genius:’ O Mæcenas Twiddledee, hast thou any notion what a Man of Genius is? Genius is ‘the inspired gift of God!’ It is the clearer presence of God Most High in a man. Dim, potential in all men; in this man it has become clear, actual. So says John Milton, who ought to be a judge; so answer him the Voices of all Ages and all Worlds. Wouldst thou commune with such a one, - - be his real peer then: does that lie in thee? Know thyself, and thy real and thy apparent place, and know him and his real and his apparent place, and know him and his real and his apparent place; and act in some noble conformity therewith. What! The star-fire of the Empyrean shall eclipse itself, and illuminate magic lanterns to amuse grown children? He, the God-inspired, is to twang harps for thee, and blow through scrannel-pipes; soothe thy sated soul with visions of new, still wider Eldorados, Houri Paradises, richer Lands of Cockaigne? Brother, this is not he; this is a counterfeit, this twangling, jangling, vain, acrid, scrannel-piping man. Thou dost well to say with sick Saul, “It is naught, such harping!” - and in sudden rage, grasp thy spear, and try if thou canst pin such a one to the wall. King Saul was mistaken in his man, but thou art right in thine. It is the due of such a one: nail him to the wall, and leave him there. So ought copper shillings to be nailed on counters; copper geniuses on walls, and left there for a sign! -

I conclude that the Men of Letters too may become a ‘Chivalry,’ an actual instead of a virtual Priesthood, with result immeasurable, - so soon as there is nobleness in themselves for that, and to a certainty, not sooner! Of intrinsic Valetisms you cannot, with whole Parliaments to help you, make a Heroism. Doggeries never so gold-plated, Doggeries never so escutcheoned, Doggeries never so diplomaed, bepuffed, gas-lighted, continue Doggeries, and must take the fate of such.

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