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Past and Present: Thomas Carlyle, 1843

Book 4 Chapter 8: The Didactic

Certainly it were a fond imagination to expect that any preaching of mine could abate Mammonism; that Bobus of Houndsditch will love his guineas less, or his poor soul more, for any preaching of mine! But there is one Preacher who does preach with effect, and gradually persuade all persons: his name is Destiny, is Divine Providence, and his Sermon the inflexible Course of Things. Experience does take dreadfully high school-wages; but he teaches like no other!

I revert to Friend Prudence the good Quaker’s refusal of ‘seven thousand pounds to boot.’ Friend Prudence’s practical conclusion will by degrees, become that of all rational practical men whatsoever. On the present scheme and principle, Work cannot continue. Trades’ Strikes, Trades’ Unions, Chartisms; mutiny, squalor, rage and desperate revolt, growing ever more desperate, will go on their way. As dark misery settles down on us, and our refuges of lies fall in pieces one after one, the hearts of men, now at last serious, will turn to refuges of truth. The eternal stars shine out again, so soon as it is dark enough.

Begirt with desperate Trades’ Unionism and anarchic mutiny, many an Industrial Law-ward, by and by, who has neglected to make laws and keep them, will be heard saying to himself: “Why have I realised five hundred thousand pounds? I rose early and sat late, I toiled and moiled, and in the sweat of my brow and of my soul, I strove to gain this money, that I might become conspicuous, and have some honour among my fellow creatures. I wanted them to honour me, to love me. The money is here, earned with my best Life-blood: but the honour? I am encircled with squalor, with hunger, rage, and sooty desperation. Not honoured, hardly even envied; only fools and the flunkey-species so much as envy me. I am conspicuous, - as a mark for curses and brickbats. What good is it? My five hundred scalps hang here in my wigwam; would to Heaven I had sought something else than the scalps; would to Heaven I had been a Christian Fighter, not a Chactaw one! To have ruled and fought not in a Mammonish but in a Godlike spirit; to have had the hearts of the people bless me, as a true ruler and Captain of my people; to have felt my own heart bless me, and that God above instead of Mammon below was blessing me, - this had been something. Out of my sight, ye beggarly five hundred scalps of bankers-thousands; I will try for something other, or account my life a tragical futility!”

Friend Prudence’s ‘rock-ledge,’ as we called it, will gradually disclose itself to many a man; to all men. Gradually, assaulted from beneath and from above, the Stygian mud-deluge of Laissez- faire, Supply-and-demand, Cash-payment the one Duty, will abate on all hands; and the everlasting mountain-tops, and secure rock-foundations that reach to the Centre of the World, and rest on Nature’s Self, will again emerge, to found on, and to build on. When Mammon-worshippers here and there begin to be God-worshippers, and bipeds-of-prey become men, and there is a Soul felt once more in the huge-pulsing elephantine mechanic Animalism of this Earth, it will be again a blessed Earth.

“Men cease to regard money?” cries Bobus of Houndsditch: “What else do all men strive for? The very Bishop informs me that Christianity cannot get on without a minimum of Four thousand five hundred in its pocket. Cease to regard money? That will be at Doomsday in the afternoon!” O, Bobus, my opinion is somewhat different. My opinion is that the Upper Powers have not yet determined on destroying this Lower World. A respectable, ever-increasing minority who do strive for something higher than money I with confidence anticipate; ever increasing, till there be a sprinkling of them found in all quarters, as salt of the Earth once more. The Christianity that cannot get on without a minimum of Four thousand five hundred will give place to something better that can. Thou wilt not join our small minority, thou? Not till Doomsday in the afternoon? Well; then, at least, thou wilt join it, thou and the majority in mass! -

But truly it is beautiful to see the brutish empire of Mammon cracking everywhere, giving sure promise of dying or of being changed. A strange, chill, almost ghastly dayspring strikes up in Yankeeland itself: my Transcendental friends announce there, in a distinct though somewhat lankhaired ungainly manner, that the Demiurgus Dollar is dethroned; that new unheard-of Demiurgusships, Priesthoods, Aristocracies, Growths and Destructions, are already visible in the grey of coming Time. Chronos is dethroned by Jove; Odin by St. Olaf: the Dollar cannot rule in Heaven for ever. No; I reckon, not. Socinian Preachers quit their pulpits in Yankeeland, saying, “Friends, this is all gone to a coloured cobweb, we regret to say!” - and retire into the fields to cultivate onion-beds, and live frugally on vegetables. It is very notable. Old godlike Calvinism declares that its old body is now fallen to tatters and done; and its mournful ghost, disembodied, seeking new embodiment, pipes again in the winds; - a ghost and spirit as yet, but heralding new Spirit-worlds, and better Dynasties than the Dollar one.

Yes, here as there, light is coming into the world; men love not darkness, they do love light. A deep feeling of the eternal nature of Justice looks out among us everywhere, - even through the dull eyes of Exeter Hall; an unspeakable religiousness struggles, in the most helpless manner, to speak itself in Puseyisms and the like. Of our Cant, all condemnable, how much is not condemnable without pity, we had almost said, without respect! The inarticulate worth and truth that is in England goes down yet to the Foundations.

Some ‘Chivalry of Labour,’ some noble Humanity and practical Divineness of Labour, will yet be realised on this Earth. Or why will, why do we pray to Heaven without setting our own shoulder to the wheel? The Present, if it will have the Future accomplish, shall itself commence. Thou who prophesiest, who believest, begin thou to fulfil. Here or nowhere, now equally as at any time! That outcast help-needing thing or person, trampled down under vulgar feet or hoofs, no help ‘possible’ for it, no prize offered for the saving of it, canst not thou save it, then, without prize? Put forth thy hand, in God’s name; know that ‘impossible,’ where Truth and Mercy and the everlasting Voice of Nature order, has no place in the brave man’s dictionary. That when all men have said “Impossible,” and tumbled noisily else-whither, and thou alone art left, then first thy time and possibility have come. It is for thee now: do thou that, and ask no man’s counsel, but thy own only and God’s. Brother, thou hast possibility in thee for much: the possibility of writing on the eternal skies the record of a heroic life. That noble downfallen or yet unborn ‘Impossibility’ thou canst lift it up, thou canst, by the soul’s travail, bring it into clear being. That loud inane Actuality, with millions in its pocket, too ‘possible’ that, which rolls along there, with quilted trumpeters blaring round it, and all the world escorting it as mute or vocal flunkey, - escort it not thou; say to it, either nothing, or else deeply in thy heart: “Loud-blaring Nonentity, no force of trumpets, cash, Long-Acre art, or universal flunkeyhood of men, makes thee an Entity; thou art a Nonentity, and deceptive Simulacrum, more accursed than thou seemest. Pass on, in the Devil’s name, unworshipped by at least one man, and leave the thoroughfare clear!”

Not on Ilion’s or Latium’s plains; on far other plains and places henceforth, can noble deeds be now done. Not on Ilion’s plains; how much less in Mayfair’s drawingrooms! Not in victory over poor brother French or Phrygians; but in victory over Frost-jötuns, Marsh-giants, over demons of Discord, Idleness, Injustice, Unreason, and Chaos come again. None of the old Epics is longer possible. The Epic of French and Phrygians was comparatively a small Epic: but that of Flirts and Fribbles, what is that? A thing that vanishes at cock-crowing, - that already begins to scent the morning air! Game-preserving Aristocracies, let them ‘bush’ never so effectually, cannot escape the Subtle Fowler. Game seasons will be excellent, and again will be indifferent, and by and by they will not be at all. The Last Partridge of England, of an England where millions of men can get no corn to eat, will be shot and ended. Aristocracies with beards on their chins will find other to do than amuse themselves with trundling-hoops.

But it is to you ye Workers, who do already work, and are as grown men, noble and honourable in a sort, that the whole world calls for new work and nobleness. Subdue Mutiny, Discord, wide-spread Despair, by manfulness, justice, mercy and wisdom. Chaos is dark, deep as Hell; let light be, and there is instead a green flowery World. O, it is great, and there is no other greatness. To make some nook of God’s Creation a little fruitfuller, better, more worthy of God; to make some human hearts a little wiser, manfuller, happier, - more blessed, less accursed! It is work for a God. Sooty Hell of Mutiny and Savagery and despair can, by man’s energy, be made a kind of Heaven; cleared of its soot, of its Mutiny, of its need to mutiny; the everlasting arch of Heaven’s azure o’erspanning it too, and its cunning mechanisms and tall chimney-steeples, as a birth of Heaven; God and all men looking on it well pleased. Unstained by wasteful deformities, by wasted tears or heart’s-blood of men, or any defacement of the Pit, noble fruitful Labour, growing ever nobler, will come forth, - the grand sole miracle of Man; whereby man has risen from the low places of this Earth, very literally, into divine Heavens. Ploughers, Spinners, Builders; Prophets, Poets, Kings; Brindleys and Goethes, Odins and Arkwrights; all martyrs, and noble men, and gods are of one grand Host: immeasurable; marching ever forward since the Beginnings of the World. The enormous, all-conquering, flame-crowned Host; noble every soldier in it, sacred, and alone noble. Let him who is not of it hide himself; let him tremble for himself. Stars at every button cannot make him noble; sheaves of Bath-garters, nor bushels of Georges; nor any other contrivance but manfully enlisting in it, valiantly taking place and step in it. O Heavens, will he not bethink himself; he too is so needed in the Host! It were so blessed, thrice-blessed, for himself, and for us all! In hope of the Last Partridge, and some Duke of Weimar, among our English Dukes, we will be patient yet awhile.

The Future hides in it
Good hap and sorrow;
We press still thorow,
Naught that abides in it
Daunting us, - onward.

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